After 18 years on the bench, Judge Margaret Henry will step down as a judge at Los Angeles County’s Edmund D. Edelman Children’s Court. On Tuesday, she was honored by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors for her work, including establishing the 18 and Up Courtroom, a pioneering court designed to address the needs of young people in extended foster care, ages 18 to 21.
In 2016, Henry helped develop and oversee the new court, a collaboration between the Superior Court, the Children’s Law Center and the county’s Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) that aimed to better provide transition-age foster youth with supportive services as they transition into adulthood. At the time it started, the 18 and Up Courtroom was the only such courtroom in the state.
The courtroom now hears cases for approximately 2,500 older youth in one courtroom, and helps connect them to services offered by government and nonprofit agencies in the court, according to Henry.
“There’s a legal part to this court — we have to make findings every six months – but we want to make sure that [youth] have got every opportunity to be in school or employed 20 hours a week or trying to overcome barriers in order to do those things,” Henry said in a 2016 article about the courtroom in The Chronicle of Social Change. “If they say, ‘I don’t know what to do,’ we’ve got people right there in the courtroom that can help them.”
Not surprisingly, Judge Henry ranked her work on the 18 and Up Courtroom as among the most satisfying of her career.
“More than a few people thought it would not work and that we would need more courtrooms, which were not going to be made available,” Henry said in an email to The Chronicle this week. ” Everyone in the 18 and Up Courtroom had to work harder than we should have to make it happen, but we kept finding new ways to be more efficient, while helping youth more than when the cases were spread out in 26 courtrooms.”
Henry was appointed to the Los Angeles County Superior Court by former California Governor Gray Davis (D) in 2001. Within six months, Henry was seeing dependency cases at Edelman. She served as supervising judge at the court for 10 years, from 2005 to 2014. After a 15-month sojourn as a judge in the juvenile delinquency courts in Pasadena, Henry returned to Edelman as the part of the 18 and Up Court in 2016.
Henry said while she looks back fondly on many devoted staff, lawyers and judicial officers at Edelman, the opportunity to work with foster youth during a critical time in their lives is something she will remember with special fondness.
“I will miss talking to the youth and learning about their problems and the barriers they faced,” she said. “I will miss problem solving to help them overcome barriers.”
Judge Nancy Ramirez has been appointed to serve in Judge Henry’s place in the 18 and Up Court.