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News and Information from the National Court Appointed Special Advocate Association

Closing Words

Supporting Older Youth in Family Court

Judge Glenda A. Hatchett
National CASA Spokesperson

I think it’s wonderful that National CASA has a strategic focus on supporting youth who are transitioning to independence. We’ve got to figure out how we can help these teenagers reach their full potential. We need to be creative and think outside the box. What kind of resources can we pull in? What kind of encouragement can we give these young people? This is why CASA and GAL volunteers are so critically important.

I remember vividly a youth coming into my courtroom in Atlanta under tragic circumstances. In fact I talk about her in my new book, Dare to Take Charge. This girl suffers sexual abuse by her mother’s boyfriend over a long period of time. It finally gets to the point that she can’t take it anymore and confides in a counselor. When the case comes to court, the mother says, “Well, she’s promiscuous—my boyfriend did not molest her!” In spite of the evidence, the mother simply doesn’t believe her daughter. And now I have this precious child with no place to go. So she has to be placed in foster care.

One of the conversations I had with her was, “What is your dream for your life?” It turns out she wanted to go to Spelman College. I made a few calls to help her get an interview at the college, and she was accepted. With today’s caseloads, it’s rare that a family court judge has the time to give this kind of individualized attention. As a judge I might see thousands of youth in a year’s time. But a CASA volunteer works with one or two sibling groups at a time, and that makes all the difference.

This particular young woman graduated with a degree in social welfare and became a worker for the Department of Family and Social Services—realizing an admirable goal to help children in the circumstance she was originally in. The extra support she needed to get there is what our advocates offer every day. They find resources for teens who often have no one else looking out for them.

I remember another remarkable teen who came into my courtroom. His mother was a refugee from Ethiopia, and she ended up passing away after battling cancer. So here’s this young man who can’t go back to his native country, where his only remaining family live, for political reasons. I had to bring him into care. Now I happen to have a colleague whose wife is Ethiopian. This woman helped get the young man connected with the Ethiopian community in Atlanta. Together we mentored him and helped him find scholarships and other resources. Because of his new support system, he got through college.

About a year ago I was at the bookstore and ran into this young man. We greeted each other warmly. It turns out he’s thriving. He is gainfully employed and has a fiancée. But I really think about what would have happened if we had just opened the door and said, “Here’s your stipend—go out on your own in this foreign country with absolutely no connections to anyone and figure it out.” Where would he go? What would he do? How could he have possibly done as well as he’s doing now?

Now success takes many forms. The two young adults I’ve told you about are perhaps at the extreme end of the scale. But often success is simply being able to support oneself and feel connected to family, whether it’s the one we were born into, adopted into—or one we create for ourselves with caring friends.

CASA volunteers make up a marvelous network that reaches all across the country and makes a huge difference in the lives of our children. They point young people in the right direction and say, “OK, you’re aging out of foster care. What about us getting you into college? What about a vocational or job training program? What can we do to support you in making your boldest dreams come true?”

There’s a chapter in my new book that talks about how your past does not have to define your future. I know that so many of the young people we work with have had tremendous challenges. However, today is full of potential and hope. So please join me and the thousands of CASA volunteers across the country in encouraging youth not to live in the grips of the past. We have to let them know that we are cheering for them, that we really believe in them and that we want them to see a better tomorrow.

Honorable Glenda A. Hatchett


Hon. Glenda A. Hatchett is an authority on juvenile issues known for her award-winning television series Judge Hatchett. Her new book Dare to Take Charge came out recently. See Judge Hatchett’s websites for more information: glendahatchett.com and parentpowernow.com.



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Anonymous @ 5/13/2011 8:29:03 AM 
Dare to take Charge by Family Judge Glenda Hatchett
As a National spokesperson for Court Appointed Special Advocates, Judge Glenda Hatchett lets her readers know what actually goes on in the Juvenile Court room between parents and youths who are facing some form of conflict within their families where the child may not be believed or looses his or her rights. She tells her stories how the CASA volunteer actually made a difference in two people lives by pointing the young people in he right direction and supporting them until their boldest dreams came true. A great book to add to your reading list. Hats off!
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