Douglas County Separate Juvenile Court Judge Chad M. Brown talks about his job and answered questions from children in his courtroom during the annual Kids and Judges Day organized by CASA of Douglas County on Friday, July 26, 2019. (Photo by Scott Stewart)
10th Annual Kids & Judges Day
Children Visit Juvenile Court to Get to Know Judges, Enjoy Fun Afternoon
By Scott Stewart
The Daily Record
Surrounded by a palm tree and fish, Judge Chad M. Brown wore a lei and fielded questions from a courtroom full of children.
One asked whether he liked being a judge in the Separate Juvenile Court of Douglas County.
“It’s the best job that I have ever had because it is all about kids. I get to do things that nobody else can do, and I get to make sure that you’re safe and you’re happy and you’re successful,” Brown said.
Last Friday was the 10th annual Kids and Judges Day at the Douglas County Juvenile Court, which is hosted by the court and CASA for Douglas County in partnership with PromiseShip.
Groups of children in the juvenile justice system visited with the judges as part of a fun event that also included free books, pizza, therapy dogs, activities, games and a mock trial.
“If you think about children stepping into a very adult world like this, what sort of anxiety they must be experiencing, we want to lessen that as much as we can,” said Alexander Cayetano, director of volunteer and community engagement at CASA. “Children who are in the system often feel alone, and it is important, especially with events like this, to show them that there are so many caring adults who are in their corner and who are concerned about making sure that they have everything that they need to continue growing and developing, and that there are people who care about their future.”
CASA of Douglas County is a leader in organizing several children- and family-focused events, including a reunification picnic, a national adoption day celebration and an annual holiday party. Its superhero run and festival fundraiser is coming up Aug. 24.
The Kids and Judges Day is all about normalizing the process of going to court for children.
“They get to be comfortable in the situation,” said court-appointed special advocate volunteer Jennifer Omer. “They get to see the judge as a real person, someone who cares about them. The kids who are here today in Judge Brown’s courtroom are having a fun time. They are relaxed and they’re comfortable.”
Cayetano said that the judges appreciate the intentional opportunity to remind the children that they’re the No. 1 concern in the juvenile court proceedings.
About 80 children were registered to attend this year’s Kids and Judges Day. They attended with foster parents, CASA volunteers and other professionals who interact with their case.
Judge Douglas F. Johnson said the day provides a chance for the children to see behind-the-scenes in the courtroom.
“Nobody wants to come to court in general, and, for kids especially, I think it can be scary,” he said. “We try to create an environment that is more trauma-informed, more civil and less litigious when we can be.”
Johnson said events like Kids and Judges Day takes the stigma out of a trip to the court, allowing children the opportunity to go behind the bench, try out the robe and “hammer” and ask questions about the judge who they will see again in a court session.
The goal is similar to that of an elementary school principal who spends time in classrooms, knows the students’ name and performs silly stunts at assemblies. If the children see the authority figure as a regular person, it becomes less intimidating – and may even be more constructive – when they see that authority figure in their professional context, whether that’s issuing an order from the bench or in the principal’s office.
“The real message is: ‘We’re glad you’re here. You matter. What our job is to try to meet your needs and take care of you,’” said Johnson, who is retiring after 26 years on the bench at the end of the month.