After Hours Courts Access - The Network

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Utilizing a trial after hours program that launched in September 2022, many survivors have been able to access vital domestic violence orders of protection. Among these were a woman whose work schedule overlapped with the Court’s scheduled physical hours of operation, a caller who was caring for her sick mother and could not access alternate care to come to the court, and a client who learned about the option while she was at an emergency shelter.

Because of your support and advocacy, we’ve progressed on “ensuring that survivors have access to services when it is safest to seek help,” says Executive Director Amanda Pyron.

Pyron led Network participation in a Domestic Violence Committee convened by Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans to consider how the Courthouse could better serve constituents. A key outcome of this committee is the pilot After Hours Order of Protection (OP) program.

At times, the advocacy that works is surprising. We learned of challenges advocates and survivors were facing from Courthouse-based domestic violence advocate and attorneys who were meeting regularly during the pandemic to ensure service to survivors was uninterrupted. After months of advocacy with the then-presiding judge was unsuccessful, it was one mother’s story, relayed by an attorney, that made all the difference. The case of a mother and her three children who were denied services at 3 p.m. in the scorching heat was brought to the Cook County Commission—where commissioners sprang into action. County commissioners, the Chief Judge’s office, and a committed group of advocates and attorneys worked to ensure that the Court was reformed and resourced to provide safe, essential, and expanded support to domestic and sexual violence survivors. (Ultimately, a judge retired.) And the Domestic Violence Committee approved the after-hours pilot.

For the pilot, the courts, in concert with Network member organization Connections for Abused Women and Their Children (CAWC), are trialing after-hours access from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. on weekdays and 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends through March.

CAWC, through their 24-hour shelter, is well-positioned to support survivors whenever they most need help. CAWC’s advocates help survivors request OPs online during the after-hours program. Within an hour of filing, they appear in court virtually to review their request and receive a decision.

Community advocates, elected officials, attorneys, and judges continue to convene bimonthly to assess the pilot program and review the Domestic Violence Committee’s priorities. Just a few months in, the results are very promising. Ten to fifteen survivors tend to use the program each week, according to CAWC records. CAWC and the wider advocacy community are optimistic that the program will become longstanding. Future goals include shifting the hours earlier, to lessen the gap between regular court hours and the after-hours program, and broadening language access, translating the materials into the most commonly spoken languages in Cook County.

Renata Stiehl is the senior attorney and daytime staff supervisor with the Presiding Judge’s Office. She has been active in the program’s implementation. Stiehl notes, “We’ve learned from survivors that, in addition to protective orders, there are many other services needed during these hours, underscoring the importance and value of wrap-around services.” This aligns with the Network’s recommendations and insights in our 2022 Measuring Safety Report.

You can get involved in Network advocacy efforts. Would you like to join our Court Advocacy Committee or get involved in our Policy Action Center? To join our Court Advocacy Committee, email Shelby Hoffman (shoffman@the-network.org). Sign up for our policy alerts by texting NETWORKGBV to 52886. (Sign up soon! We’re in the midst of drafting some legislation to reduce the danger of gbv-involved gun violence that we’ll highlight here in the coming weeks. We would love your support in advancing it.)

Many thanks to Renata Stiehl and Pam Wilcher for providing insights on the program.

To access CAWC’s support with an After Hours OP, call 773-278-4566.

Consider joining the anti-gender-based violence advocacy community! We have community events and resources as well as job postings at the Network and our partner organizations. Also, check out our upcoming trainings!

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