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Child Watch® Column: "Judge Patricia Martin: Family Matters"

Release Date: April 29, 2011

Marian Wright Edelman

The Honorable Patricia Martin, who serves as the Presiding Judge of the Child Protection Division of the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, is the president-elect of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. In this key role she is devoted to helping change children's lives. She previously chaired the Supreme Court of Illinois Judicial Conference Study Committee on Juvenile Justice, and spent a decade as an assistant Cook County Public Defender. With her wealth of experience, Judge Martin is a wise observer of what works best in the court system for children and families. As National Child Abuse Prevention Month comes to a close, here are some critical lessons she shared with the Children's Defense Fund's Black Community Crusade for Children.

The first key lesson is that families matter. Even when families have become involved in the family court system it's still important for parents to be encouraged to participate in their children's lives. Instead of focusing on parents' absence because of abuse, neglect, or incarceration, she said, it's more helpful to focus on finding ways these parents can be positively involved. Rather than thinking about reunifying families down the road as a primary goal of the family court system, she starts by thinking about how to keep families together. "Even if I have to take a child into foster care that does not preclude great family involvement. It takes more effort to do it, but that doesn't preclude it. As a matter of fact, we should do it better and more often if a child is in custody, in my humble opinion." Judge Martin pointed out that methods like court-supervised family time or video conferencing for incarcerated parents and their children can allow parents who may still be working on changing their own lives and behavior to stay connected and have a positive impact on their children's lives. Judge Martin developed the Child Protection Mediation Program now used in a number of jurisdictions which includes parents in decisions impacting their children even when abuse or neglect has occurred.

In her second key lesson, Judge Martin stressed that parents are by no means the only source of support and influence on children. When parents aren't available, it's critical to find other adults to step up in a child's life because one adult can make all the difference. Judge Martin told us about the aunt who played that role for her and her younger siblings after their mother's death. She said the day their mother passed away "I couldn't figure out how we were going to get out of bed the next day, literally, because when we were home, the way we woke up, my mother would sing "Precious Lord" down the hallway… That was the way we woke up every day when we were home, and so I couldn't figure out how that was going to happen. [But] my Aunt Katherine—we call her "Aunt Kitty"—she came to our house that next morning after my mother died at six o'clock, and from that day to last September 31st, when she passed, every morning at six a.m., I got a call from my Aunt Kitty. Now, [even] if I was in Australia, six o'clock Chicago time, Aunt Kitty called, and she asked the same thing: ‘What did you do? What are you doing today? And how do you feel?'… My theory is if I had an Aunt Kitty who called me at six o'clock, every one of my children in foster care deserves an Aunt Kitty."

Judge Martin said she's seen many kinds of adults stepping in to play this role for children—"the basketball coach, the math teacher"—and whenever she prepared children in her caseload to leave foster care, she held meetings with these adults too. She wanted to remind "every adult who is responsible for shining that child's star" how critical they were in the child's life. Judge Martin eagerly embraced the chance to do her part for children: "I am an adult, and I have the responsibility of helping them find their goals, dreams, and aspirations, helping them learn their yes." She established the nationally recognized Benchmark Permanency Hearing Program giving foster care teens approaching emancipation the opportunity to express their goals directly to the court. She shared the example of one young woman who came to her courtroom with paperwork that said she wanted to be a cosmetologist. When Judge Martin probed the girl herself about her plans, this young teen didn't know what a cosmetologist was. After Judge Martin explained that it involved hairstyling and beauty products, she said, "Judge, I hate doing that stuff. I want to be a lawyer." The girl's caseworker tried to tell Judge Martin that the girl was reading so far below grade level that encouraging her to be a lawyer would be completely unrealistic. Judge Martin immediately replied, "Sir, you've come to the wrong place."

I am so grateful for Judge Martin's caring leadership and work which has made such a difference in the lives of so many children. Every one of us can and must follow her good example. Children in every community need just one adult to step up and be an Aunt Kitty in their lives: to care about what they're doing, encourage their dreams, and tell anyone who tries to stifle that child's star that they have come to the wrong place.


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Submitted by Family Matters at: April 12, 2013
The Dorothy Dunning Story A loving grandmothers fight to save her grandchildren from a broken Interstate Transfer system Failed Bureaucratic Interstate Transfer Negotiations between Two States Minnesota vs. Mississippi Child Custody Case - How Will This Affect You? Court rules white foster parents should raise sisters instead of Biological African American Grandparents Hear My Cry - Fighting For My Grandchildren My name is Dorothy Knox Dunning. I am a African American grandmother from Gautier Mississippi who has been fighting for almost four years to get my two grandchildren from the state of Minnesota. My fight for justice landed me at the steps of the Minnesota State Supreme Court. I am writing to you from Gautier Mississippi. I am pleading my case to you. I am hoping you can take a look at my case and help to bring my granddaughters home. I have been through the storm and the rain and I am praying that you can bring some sunshine back into my life. My heart is aching. My days have been cloudy and very weary. My two granddaughters were taken by the State of Minnesota child protection/adoption system in 2009. And although from the beginning when the oldest girl was just two and a half months old I fought to get them back. My rights were violated by the State of Minnesota child welfare system. The state never did a relative search on the father’s side of the family despite the fact that two of my other sons are residents of the State of Minnesota. We were never contacted by the state, but eventually after my contacting DHS learned that my grandchildren were in the system. I immediately applied to adopt both children with the blessing of both parents of my grandchildren. I was forced to jump through hoop after hoop. The process continued to drag on for years. My fight landed me at the Minnesota State Supreme Court. Recently on March 27, 2013 I lost that battle. Although both Mississippi and Minnesota child welfare agencies approved my grandchildren to be placed in my home I was still denied that right. I must continue to fight for my grandchildren. I love them too much. I beg you to please take the time to read my story which I have posted in the link below. I have been fighting this battle since the fall of 2009. I am hoping that you are the answer to my prayers. Please find it in your heart to help bring my granddaughters home. African American Community Supporters Stated: “It is the belief of the African American community that the best interest and placement of children with a family member is of the utmost importance in the African American Community.” “We support the federal law which states that adult family members of children taken into foster care must be notified within 30 days. We support the concept of building and keeping Black families strong and healthy.” “We know that children placed within the biological family structure are better adjusted in their personal lives, school, community and the world. Children who do not have the bloodline support struggle with identity, behavior, self esteem and decision making in their lives.” “We support a foster care/ adoption option system that place children in homes outside of the biological family structures if no qualified blood family members are able to foster or adopt the children. We support a system that supports social justice and fairness for African American Families” Why I Cry! My family has been ripped apart! Princess and Dorothy, two beautiful girls who are a part of me. I love them and they are my blood. They are and always will be my biological grandchildren. Princess and Dorothy, two beautiful girls who are a part of me. I love them and they are my blood. They are and always will be my biological grandchildren. The state of Minnesota didn't blink an eye giving them, my grandchildren, away without giving us a call or a chance to get to know them and love them. This happened after numerous ongoing attempts to work with the interstate transfer system between Minnesota and Mississippi. Yes, I'm frustrated and believe I have every reason to be! How can someone design a law that is ripping apart peoples lives? Is there anyone out there who will hear my cry? Yes, I'm frustrated and believe I have every reason to be! How can someone design a law that is ripping apart peoples lives? Is there anyone out there who will hear my cry? I do believe that foster parents are a Godsend and have changed the lives of many children across this world. They play a major part in raising healthy children with normal lives. But foster care is for children who don't have a suitable family readily available to them, in my eyes. While I appreciate the Grosser family for being there for my grandchildren all of these years. Now it's time for them to be with family and get to know their grandma, aunt's and uncle's, their other siblings and cousins. I'm asking for any and all that can read my story or hear my voice to listen to this loving grandmother's pleas for help. I'm crying and bearing my heart & soul to each and every one of you. I need your prayers, love, and support to get a breakthrough. I've been fighting since the fall of 2009 to get custody of my grandchildren. My fight is not over yet. My hope is to take my case to the US Supreme Court. However, I need your help to get there. I've been fighting since the fall of 2009 to get custody of my grandchildren. My fight is not over yet. My hope is to take my case to the US Supreme Court. However, I need help to get there. Please pass my story along. It may be me today but it could be anyone of you tomorrow. Let's prevent this NOW. So no one else will know the pain of being ripped away from their loved ones. Please read my story and related news articles at ireport.cnn by clicking link posted below Please Help! Sincerely, Dorothy Knox Dunning Gautier Mississippi Cell: 228-218-6100 Supreme Court Opinion

Submitted by Lgm at: December 30, 2011
As an educator I agree and witnessed first hand wonderful examples of extended family members stepping up and saving children. One point that is often failed to be addessed are the many cases of responsible.fathers desperately trying to get parenting time with their children. If the mother is angry and bitter they're often forced to get attorneys to pay thousands of dollars just to see thei children. This is especially true in the Wayne county court system in Detroit. I would love to see this type of injustice discussed when we speak about the best interest of children.

Submitted by Kim at: December 15, 2011
I really liked the colum. I think every family member should like what the other family member wants to do. My grandmother thinks I should be a mathmatition instead of a Makeup artist. So I understand what that lady is going through with her aunt not likeing what she wanted to be a lawyer. But there is nothing wrong with being a Cosmetologist.

Submitted by Prae at: October 19, 2011
I found this column so inspiring & unbelievably expressing exactly my feelings. It is so sad to witness many involved within the juvenile justice system lacking in these stated incitements.

Submitted by Tammy at: May 6, 2011
Inspiring and wonderful. Thank you!

Submitted by PJC at: May 3, 2011
We are loosing the battle in Florida - who can help us save our children...where do we begin.

Submitted by PJC at: May 3, 2011
How can we start this in Florida. I would like to know how to begin....

Submitted by Jan at: May 2, 2011
The world needs more Judge Martins and Aunt Kittys!

Submitted by Kim at: April 29, 2011
As a Child Welfare Worker, I agree with Judge Martin all children need a strong support system!!! Awesome article :)

Submitted by ann at: April 29, 2011
I really found this column to be of most immediate interest in my life. My husband and I have been given emergency temporary custody of our 2 year old grandson. We saved his life. His mother, we feel will never have custody ,again.Supervised visitation takes place in our home. this has taken courage, strength ,and faith. Thankyou for the timely article about judge martin.I believe parenting ,love and confidence can come from all who truley care. A.M.M