An APA Practice Organization-backed pilot project that provides free parenting coordination to needy Washington, D.C., parents in high-conflict divorces opened its first cases in November.

The project--a collaboration of the D.C. Psychological Association the D.C. Bar's Pro Bono Program and Argosy University/Washington, D.C.--trained three advanced Argosy graduate students to serve as the project's parenting coordinators. The collaborators supervise the coordinators throughout the project, which was funded for one year by a $15,000 grant from the APA Practice Organization's Committee for the Advancement of Professional Practice.

"The project offers us the chance to be on the forefront of something that makes really good sense," says Argosy student Kay Hughes, JD, a New Mexico lawyer who plans to incorporate parenting coordination into her practice after graduation. "But probably what is most exciting about the project is that we're providing a service to a population that has had no access to it."

This fall, the students participated in a weekend training event, and will attend ongoing training throughout the winter and spring. At the fall event, psychologist Bruce Copeland, PhD, JD, for example, explained that parenting coordination is qualitatively different from therapy because coordinators have the power to impose compromises on families.

Since meeting with Copeland, the students have helped the collaborators hone the court order that will give them the authority to work with parents. The cases will be selected by two D.C. family court judges--Judge Odessa Vincent and Judge Ramsey Johnson. Students will work on up to three cases, initially, depending on the demands of the cases.

The project is also planning the first phase of its evaluation; at 60 days in, collaborators will survey the families, judges and coordinators for feedback on its effectiveness. A second evaluation is slated for the end of the pilot year.

The pilot's many stakeholders are optimistic: "The whole goal is to try to get the parents to take on the solution to the problem themselves, rather than have it dictated by a judge," says Judge Johnson. "I think the idea is exactly right."

--D. SMITH BAILEY