Juvenile Presiding Judge Craig Arthur is a very busy man. His days are filled with the many responsibilities as Presiding Judge of the Juvenile Court. They range from ordinary courtroom scheduling issues to complex statewide task forces that address issues involving youth in the judicial system. He chairs a wide variety of committees, participates in stakeholder meetings, and teaches classes for new judicial officers. Despite his very busy schedule, Judge Arthur still maintains a weekly Teen Court (formerly known as Boys Court and Girls Court) calendar on Fridays.
The juvenile court system deals with two distinctly different types of cases. Dependency cases involve situations where youth are subjected to abuse, neglect, or abandonment within the home. Juvenile justice cases (previously referred to as delinquency cases), deal with youth who are accused of committing a crime.
As Juvenile Presiding Judge, Judge Arthur is responsible for all aspects of juvenile court. This includes operations, overseeing judicial officers, assigning cases, and ensuring staff are representing the court values. According to Judge Arthur, there is a tremendous amount of behind-the-scenes work that goes into keeping the court running smoothly.
Fridays are dedicated to Teen Court which hears the same kinds of cases as a regular juvenile court calendar. “These are our most vulnerable population of teens who don't have family support or relatives in the area. They are at risk of becoming under ‘dual-jurisdiction' which means they crossover into both dependency and delinquency courts,” Judge Arthur stated. “We deal largely with issues related to placement of children. If there is a juvenile justice case where a youth is charged with a criminal offense, we may be dealing with probation violations and sentencing issues.” There is often overlap between dependency and juvenile justice as many children who are removed from abusive home environments, develop mental health issues or substance use disorders, that can lead them into the juvenile justice court system.
According to Judge Arthur, “We see kids much more frequently in Teen Court than in a traditional court calendar so we can wrap them in services, have a hands-on relationship, and walk them through the very difficult issues they confront. We have some really great successes with the program.” He added, “CASA plays a HUGE role in our Teen Court cases. They participate in our morning staffing meeting with all team members including the judge, attorneys, social worker, probation officer, and mental health professionals. CASAs play an integral role in these staffing meetings and provide insight to the team since they have such hands-on experience with the youth.”
“When I read a CASA report, it’s more personal and in tune with the youth. It gives me a different perspective than a social worker’s report, which contains specific required information. I may not get the in-depth look that comes in a CASA’s report.” He shared the story of a CASA report he read a few years ago, “The CASA told me about her youth, a teenage girl, who completed a marathon. She not only finished it, but she ran back to make sure her younger brother also got across the finish line. Because I was running marathons at the time, when the youth came into my courtroom, I was able to really connect with her.” Judge Arthur adds, “When a CASA provides a report which shares the little things that happen with their youth, it speaks volumes.”
When asked to identify the biggest challenges facing youth in dependency court, Judge Arthur mentions the lack of adequate funding for programming such as substance use and drug treatment programs for youth. “It’s difficult to order youth into drug treatment programs and can be hard to get youth the help they need. There are not enough programs to send them to and they typically don’t want to go into a residential program which may be too far from where they live. Waitlists are a huge challenge for youth and parents.” He also cited a lack of mental health services, “How do we get help for a teenager who doesn’t believe they have a mental health problem and won’t willingly go into a residential treatment program? These are very challenging cases. They go into group homes and display aggressive or assaultive behaviors - how do we place those children and get them into appropriate treatment?”
“Continuity of treatment is another challenge within the system. As a youth changes placements, their education and mental health services are interrupted, and they do not have continuity of care. This often results in different educators and mental health providers. In addition to changes in treatment caused by changes in placements, youth can also experience a change with their attorney, judge, social worker, or probation officer for a variety of different reasons. Each time there is a change, the youth must tell their story again and repeat that trauma. CASAs see this a lot and are often the only through-line that maintains continuity with the youth. Any time I see an order come through where a CASA must leave a case for their own personal reasons, I cringe a bit because the CASAs are often the one mainstay for these youth,” Judge Arthur disclosed.
More CASAs in the system would be beneficial, according to Judge Arthur. Although CASA has grown tremendously over the years since he served on the CASA OC Board, including a term as Board President, there are still not enough CASAs to be matched with every youth who wants one. “To immediately be able to link up a youth when they come into the system with a CASA would be huge,” he said.
His words of advice for those considering becoming a CASA? “Really understand the role before jumping in. It’s not all fun and games and potential volunteers need to understand the difficulties. Consider talking to other CASAs. But for those who go through the training and become a CASA, it can be extremely rewarding.” He added, “I’ve gotten to know many CASAs over the years and know they derive a great deal of satisfaction from the work they do. There are some really awesome CASAs, and our youth are better for it. Many CASAs stay in touch after their youth age out because the bonds become so deep. I encourage existing CASAs to keep doing the great work they are doing. Don’t ever question whether your report is going to be read because I read them all. I can get the ‘nuts and bolts’ elsewhere, but that personal touch, I can’t get that anywhere else.”
Judge Arthur closed by talking about the highs and lows of the work he does. He shared how the trauma of some cases hits hard and may take time to get over. He added that some cases are never to be forgotten. People in his line of work receive training on secondary trauma. He said, "Every case that comes through the door is a different story and a lot of times, not a positive story. We hear about lots of trauma.” He tries to alleviate some of the pressures that come with the work by walking his dog and working out.
But the flip side is recognizing the impact his work has on the lives of others. “A case I worked on last year really moved me and made me realize what we do is important work and we can’t ever forget that or treat this as just a job. I love this work and feel very fortunate. I love coming to work every day.” He went on to say, “I’m always preaching to my adult kids to find something that makes you happy because you spend a lot of time working so you have to be comfortable with your job environment. I feel very lucky to be here and hope to be doing this work for a long time to come.”