In 1985 the Family Division Judges of Illinois’ 20th Judicial Circuit formed a Task Force to address the alarming increase in post-decree court appearances in custody divorce cases. It had been determined that at least 75% of the Judges’ time was being spent on post-divorce activities. The Task Force, comprised of circuit court judges, St. Clair County attorneys and mental health professionals spent three years seeking solutions that might reduce this case overload. During this period (in addition to addressing the court’s issues), the Task Force arrived at a significant conclusion—–children were the silent victims of drawn-out custody battles. An effort began to develop an educational curriculum that would help “prepare” parents for typical problems families encounter during the divorce and post-divorce process. If parents were informed, the thinking went, they would be more aware and responsive to the needs of their children, and as a result, their pre-divorce custody decisions could be negotiated in a more open and cooperative way, thereby avoiding the need for numerous post-decree court appearances.
It was decided that the Children First Program would stress the needs of the children to their parents. There would be a video program containing six vignettes portraying situations dealing with the most frequent areas of conflict and re-litigation; visitation (parenting time); child support and custody arrangements. Both parents would be required to attend a four-hour class facilitated by a Masters Degreed professional. Parents completing the class (s) would receive certification necessary before receiving a final Judgment of Dissolution. The Children First Curriculum is not meant as “counseling,” but is intended to serve as “education.” Dr. Dan Cuneo, a Belleville area psychologist, one of the original developers of the curriculum, has said: “Most people truly love their children, but they end up getting blinded by their hatred or distrust of the other party. I’ve seen so many kids get hurt. Something had to be done!”
The Children First Program was created by the Children First Foundation (which is a 501c 3 nonprofit), to provide licensure to organizations throughout the country to conduct the Children First Program. The program operates under court mandate and supervision. It is currently licensed in 30+ court districts across the United States and Canada.