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Judge Kevin Burke, currently working in Family Court, is a supporter of specialty courts, having started the county’s drug court. A key to the co-parenting program’s survival, he said, will be expanding enrollment and finding a successor to Peterson as leader of the effort.
The court’s $450,000 annual budget is covered by the University of Minnesota, and government and private grants. On Tuesday, the Hennepin County Board tentatively agreed to spend $135,000 to match state funding for the program in 2014, even though the question of its long-term sustainability is unanswered. Burke worries that, absent increased enrollment, the court could be eliminated.
Still, he praised the program as valuable in the effort to close the achievement gap between minority and white students in city schools. “We know that you need to get parents involved in their children’s lives in a constructive way,” he said. Just “getting dads to pay child support doesn’t address broader needs.”
Compromise and patience
Participating parents meet and complete a 24-page plan that includes whether both parents need to sign off on a child’s sports activities, who takes the child to the doctor, whether to limit TV or computer time, and how and when parents will communicate, as well as agreeing on a time for reviewing the parenting plan. The couple then takes the document to court, where the judge makes it binding.
To John Jackson, the program provides valuable help just by outlining expectations. The class leader, who also teaches at Edison High School in Minneapolis, said, “This isn’t about which one is the right way or the wrong way; this is about these two different worlds of parenting.”
The three-hour sessions are held every other week for two months. The conversation topic is focused, but the exchanges also can be freewheeling and funny. Speaking about expectations and demands, Jackson quipped, “If I need to put the toilet seat down to see my child, I’m going to put the seat down. I’ll even put the lid down.”
Spears was at his final session Tuesday night, led by Jackson and Maisha Giles, who also works as a counselor.
Spears said the biggest thing he’s learned is patience, despite cultural and communications clashes with his daughter’s mother. As for their relationship, he said in a familiar parental refrain, “We’re in the process of working it out.”
Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747 @rochelleolson