The Washington State Dependency Best Practices Guide (PDF) articulates the practices that have been found to improve the likelihood of positive outcomes in the child welfare legal system.

This guide promotes the following seven principles of successful dependency courts:

Principle driven

Successful dependency courts are principle driven. They promote a court culture in which everyone is clear as to the purpose of the court process. These courts also promote values such as judicial integrity, access to justice, respect, and equity for all participants in the system. Court partners work together to form principles that guide decision-making and form court culture despite differences of opinion on individual matters.

Collaborative learning community

Successful dependency courts recognize that the landscape of the work we do together is complex and constantly shifting. They value the strength of a diversity of perspective and believe that by creating communities of cross disciplinary practice, the system as a whole is more likely to generate positive results. They believe in the value of a true interdisciplinary approach in which each professional has the benefit of knowing enough about related disciplines to be a well-informed participant in improving the system.

Systems thinking

Dependency courts are fundamentally about managing a system of relationships. Successful dependency courts recognize the interdependency of both the professionals who make up the court system and the communities they serve. These courts are mindful of the impact of unintended consequences when making decisions and seek to mitigate negative consequences as part of the initial intervention. They are mindful that the structure of any system, including a justice system, has great impact on the outcomes it creates and as such, seek systematic solutions to recurring issues.

Data aware

What gets measured gets done. Successful dependency courts are aware of data describing the process and outcomes generated by their court. They look for patterns and outlying data points to indicate where the court community might focus improvement efforts by either seeking to minimize undesirable results, or maximize positive ones. They recognize that without data, it is difficult if not impossible to adequately assess the court’s performance. However, at the same time, they recognize that statistical data represents only a vague abstraction of the personal stories and lives of real people.

Youth and family centered

Dependency courts exist to serve youth and families. Successful dependency courts recognize that ultimately everything done in the court context will have a real and substantial impact on a child and family. As such, the court seeks to continually improve the quality of its interactions with youth and families. It seeks to create an environment and process in which youth and families can be heard and treated as meaningful partners.


Dependency courts are ultimately accountable to the communities who empower and fund them. As such, successful dependency courts continually strive to behave in a way that is accountable for taxpayer resources. Simply put, a court must bring value to the community which supports it. In order to meet this obligation, successful dependency courts must create systems of accountability within the court system addressing both those who come before the courts and those who work within the courts. Successful courts create both an internal culture of accountability and mechanisms by which to ensure those who interact with the system are accountable for behaviors addressed by the court.

Promote empowerment of individuals and communities

Successful dependency courts are conscious of systemic barriers that inhibit the full participation or promote unfair treatment of individuals or communities because of age, disability, race, ethnicity, social status, sexual orientation, indigenous heritage, national origin, and gender. These courts work to ally with those seeking to promote empowerment of all individuals and help create judicial systems which truly promote a culture of equitable participation. This in no way implies that the court is anything but impartial in a given case, but rather requires the court to act on a systemic level to promote a culture of practice that supports justice for all.

View Full PDF Guide