Pima County Presiding Judge brings knowledge, innovation to courtroom
By Katie Mayer
She has been on the bench since 1981and has presided over juvenile cases of devastating struggles, tough journeys and joyful endings.
But despite the challenging work Judge Karen S. Adam performs every day in her position as Pima County Juvenile Court Presiding Judge, she remains focused on bringing innovation, knowledge and compassion to every case she hears.
Even with dependency cases that have doubled in Pima County over the past year, Judge Adam stays committed to her work for children. Read More
"I love the ever present potential for change and the opportunity to help put things in place to help children make a difference in their lives," Judge Adam said. "I like the opportunity to help families be productive, responsible and united and to help children to be back with their parents when they can do so safely -- and if they can't -- to help them with another permanent plan, including developing life skills if they are approaching adulthood."
One of the ways Judge Adam is able to help children and families access resources is through information sharing. She has been the presiding judge over Pima County Family Drug Court for five years and has seen a number of issues in that courtroom carry over into her work in juvenile court. She also stays connected with other judges, attends conferences, holds lectures and remains involved in the community.
"Judge Adam is passionate about our families served and it shows," said Ramona Panas, program coordinator for CASA of Pima County. "She commands excellence in every avenue of Pima County Juvenile Court Center's service delivery, starting with herself."
Judge Adam is a member of the Self-Represented Litigants Network, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges and the National and Arizona Chapters of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts. She is the Dean of the Judicial College of Arizona, co-chair of the NCJFCJ Curriculum Committee and has served as faculty for the National Judicial College since 2007.
"It's really important to share information in order to help people access the right resources," Adam said. "As presiding judge, what I'm trying to do is make training available for people who can't get away and go to conferences."
One example of this is a day-long domestic violence training, which Adam is currently organizing for everyone involved in cases. The Nov. 6 training will offer an in depth look at a hypothetical domestic violence case. Participants in the training will be able to gain a better understanding of the many complex issues involved in domestic violence as well as its effects on children and families.
"We are seeing a lot more domestic violence," Judge Adam said. "When there is domestic violence in a case, it's helpful for us to track that and put it on a different trajectory."
While it might seem emotionally draining to address with such tough issues every day, Judge Adam said she "works very hard at loving detachment."
"You need to be really on guard all of the time with this work," she said. "You could really let this consume you."
When not presiding over cases, Judge Adam enjoys yoga, walking, swimming, baking and spending time with family and friends. She said that everyone - including CASAs - need to remember that although we seem overwhelmed with cases, most families and children in our communities are thriving.
"Judge Adam engages people in the process with dignity and respect," Panas said. "It's as if they are the one and only family served."
Judge Adam also empathizes with the challenging work that CASA volunteers do and is grateful to be able to appoint them to children who need them the most.
"Although it would be great to have a CASA volunteer in every single case, what I want is CASAs with the older children and the sibling groups, facilitating sibling visits."
Also, it's important for CASA volunteers to advocate for children with emotional and educational challenges that make it difficult to obtain needed services.
"I love having CASA volunteers in cases where children need a consistent, loving and responsible adult in their lives," Judge Adam said. "It's important to have CASA volunteers on cases where there literally is no one else."
Best for Babies Update
The Best for Babies initiative continues to grow as 14 counties are implementing Best for Babies best practices for maltreated infants and toddlers. Best for Babies also recently held its annual symposium in Phoenix on September 18th, bringing together statewide courts that are committed to the initiative.
The Best for Babies initiative focuses on improving outcomes for infants and toddlers in out of home care. The Court Improvement program of the Arizona Supreme Court has contracted with Prevent Child Abuse Arizona over the past few years to provide training and technical assistance to county juvenile courts and community stakeholders in the child welfare system. Read More
"Infants under age one enter out of home care in Arizona at twice the rate of all other ages of children," said Prevent Child Abuse Arizona Executive Director Becky Ruffner. "Very young children are the most vulnerable, and yet at this time in their lives, there is a tremendous amount we can do to improve their lives."
Sparked by an idea from Ruffner's friend Sally Campbell, Best for Babies was launched in 2004 in Yavapai County under then Judge Robert M. Brutinel, who is now an Arizona Supreme Court Justice.
Ruffner and Campbell were instrumental in bringing the initiative to fruition, but when Campbell died in 2008 from cancer, Ruffner took the lead and continues to move it forward today.
"It has spread like a good idea," Ruffner said of the program. "There is nothing so powerful as an idea whose time has come."
The initiative is the first of its kind in Arizona to address the unique needs of infants and toddlers who are in out of home care. It utilizes scientific data on early brain development and research into the unique needs of infants and toddlers to ensure that they have these needs met as their cases move through the court system. Some babies are even appointed specially trained CASA volunteers called "Baby CASAs."
Some of the best practices in the Best for Babies initiative include the following:
- Judicial leadership to implement needed changes in court procedures, such more frequent hearings, standing service orders and communication with parents.
- Increased judicial oversight of cases and serving as timekeeper, so that time to permanency is reduced.
- A multi-agency team of child welfare providers to coordinate local services to meet the unique needs of maltreated infants and toddlers through monthly team meetings.
- A continuum of services to support healthy development of dependent young children including training and support for foster parents.
CASA volunteers who want to become "Baby CASAs" receive an additional five hours of training in addition to the standard 30 hours. If you're interested in becoming a Baby CASA, call CASA of Arizona at (602) 452-3683
New section added to CASA of Arizona Web site
CASA of Arizona has added a new section called "Child Welfare" to the Web site. The new section provides the most current data on children in out-of-home care as well as statistics on CPS calls and investigations.