Judicial Reflections on Children in Court

Judge Cindy LedermanJudge Cindy Lederman, 11th Judicial District, Miami-Dade, FL

Summary: The author states that children of all ages must be brought into the courtroom and reflects upon her years observing the behaviors of children she has welcomed into her courtroom.

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Children of all ages must be brought into the courtroom. I have learned so much just by watching. Observing their attachment with their parents and caregivers, observing their temperament, and observing their developmental status has enriched my ability to help them. They do not need to be verbal or even say a word for me to learn something about them.

In my desk on the bench, I have three drawers. The bottom two drawers contain children’s books, some new, some old, all donated by our public library, our Early Learning Coalition and kind individuals. My top drawer is the treasure drawer that contains small toys and candy. When I invite small children to come up to the bench and navigate the treasure drawer, I speak with them and carefully observe them. I have seen children unable to control their impulses when asked to choose something from the treasure drawer. One small boy almost became wild, furiously grabbing everything in the drawer. No one had questioned his behavior before or realized that something might be wrong.

One day, I watched a small boy approach the bench whose head was clearly misshapen and no one could tell me if he had received medical care. I have observed children who communicate with grunts and have not been evaluated for speech delays. And some days I see children who appear to have never seen a book before. I address all of my observations about the needs of these children with the parents, caseworkers and lawyers in the courtroom. We work together on educating the parent and initiating the process for professional evaluation. Thankfully these children have been brought to court, giving me a firsthand perspective of their special needs. As a result, I can follow up by inquiring about those needs at subsequent court hearings and during judicial reviews to make sure that these needs are being effectively addressed.

Author biography:

Judge Cindy S. Lederman has served in the Miami-Dade Juvenile Court since 1994, including 10 years as the court's presiding judge. Judge Lederman is a member of the faculty of the National Judicial College, former president of the National Association of Women Judges and served in the House of Delegates of the American Bar Association.

Judge Lederman and the late Susan Schechter conceived the original idea for the Dependency Court Intervention Program for Family Violence, a national demonstration project in Judge Lederman’s courtroom from 1997 to 2003 funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, Violence Against Women Grants Office. She is a co-creator of the Miami Safe Start Initiative, a grant funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention, involving a community collaboration to prevent exposure to violence for children under the age of six. 

 

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