On Tuesday, February 23 the National Council of Juvenile Family Court judges sponsored a Capitol Hill briefing to highlight juvenile justice issues. The briefing included a panel discussion that was led by Dr. Sean Marsh from the Council and he was joined by four judges: Judge Karen Adams, AZ, Judge Deborah Schumacher, NV, Judge Richard Blake, CA representing tribal judges, and Judge Darlene Burn, TX.

The briefing comes at a critical time as members of the Senate are attempting to pass a reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevent Act (JJDPA).  That effort failed two weeks ago when Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) objected.  Senator Cotton has been blocking attempts to move the bill through the Senate unanimous consent process (voice vote).  Bill sponsors of the JJDPA bill, S 1169, Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) went to the floor to speak up in favor of the legislation.

During the Hill briefing, each justice went into detail in terms of what they look for and what is most effective in dealing with juvenile offenders. And at the end of the briefing the panel highlighted three key asks for Congress this year. There requests include reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), a $4 million dollar appropriations for the child abuse training project for judicial personnel and practitioners, and an appropriation of $16 million for the Office of Violence Against Women grants to support families in the justice system.

Each panelist talked about the importance of good training and a better understanding of youth development. Judge Adams talked about the use of the ACES (Adverse Childhood Experiences) assessment tool and how important it is for judges to have an understanding youth and brain development.  Judge Schumacher talked about how each case is different and that for a judge to effectively address the issues they need to understand the complexities in the families they are engaged with. Judge Blake, representing the tribal courts from the Hoop Valley Drive, California talked about his special efforts in keeping kids out of court and in school. He detailed his analysis of the young people who are coming before him and the fact that so many were in the courts and the justice system rather than in schools.  A deeper analysis led him to better understand the complexities and the challenges the young people were facing in their own homes.  As a result, different initiatives helped a number of young people complete school rather than being in jails.

Finally, Judge Burn from Texas talked about how she deals with both the juvenile justice system and the child welfare system with many children in what are called dual systems. She discussed the intensive efforts made to assist the young people who come before her court and she highlighted case examples of two young girls she is now dealing with and changes that were accomplished.

In regard to the JJDPA reauthorization…. { See Full CWLA Children’s Monitor Newsletter}