MIAMI (CBSMiami) — A one-of-a-kind collaboration between the Broward Family Court and the Seminole Tribe of Florida is all about making families stronger.
Jose Izquierdo is a family court judge in the 17th Judicial Court serving Broward County. In Dependency Court, he hears cases involving the welfare of children. Some have been removed from their homes.
“The issues that we see in the child welfare system, such as domestic violence or substance abuse or alcohol, those issues are symptoms of something, not the cause of the problem,” explains Judge Izquierdo.
He also hears cases once a month on the Seminole Reservation in Hollywood through a recent collaboration with the tribe. It is the only one in Florida.
The Tribal Court consists of lay judges appointed in 2013, who preside over civil cases, such as family court cases, child custody, and guardianship.
The partnership stems from when Izquierdo and Tribal Court members met at a child protection summit in 2016, and it has full support of the 17th Circuit Chief Judge.
“If you have the average family who’s in the court system here, the judges know very little about the family,” says Chief Judge Jack Tuter. “Whereas, in the tribe, they know everything, pretty much, about every family.”
Maggie Puentes can attest to that. Her children were removed from her custody, due to substance abuse issues. In the Fort Lauderdale courthouse, she would not know anyone. At the Tribal Court, that is not the case.
“Seeing my elderlies in the room made me want to push forward more to see them smile at me when I walk through these doors, accomplish another mission, accomplish another step,” says Puentes.
The Seminole Judges visit Broward Court, observing and learning. The goal is to manage these cases independently to continue building strong families.
“We have the support of the tribe to support her efforts to recovery personally, or with family,” says Judge Moses Osceola.
Puentes now has her children and grandchildren living with her again and says she is proud to be sober and working.
“I do arts and crafts,” she says. “As far as sewing, I made my first skirts that I’ve ever made. I never made a skirt before. I never did beadwork, so I’m doing that now.”
“It changed my life a lot,” she continues. “I have eleven hearts to take care of. That’s what I work hard for.”
There is talk of expanding the program and building on the success of this unique collaboration.