Colorado leaders help trafficking survivors share their voices with juvenile and family court judges

The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) held its 81st annual conference in Denver last week bringing attention to some of the biggest challenges facing juvenile and family court judges. This dynamic conference hosted more than 600 judicial officers and juvenile and family law related professionals from across the country in an informative consortium covering topics such as immigration and special immigrant juvenile status, the opioid epidemic, domestic child sex trafficking, child abuse and neglect, trauma-informed courts, domestic violence, LGBTQ youth and more. 

Attendees convened to provoke and precipitate discussions about issues facing the juvenile and family court system. Plenary sessions included a keynote address on strategies for judges in a changing society related to generational shifts, community expectations and judicial roles by Lauran Stiller Rikleen, president of the Rikleen Institute for Strategic Leadership; the men’s role in stopping violence against women by Dr. Jackson Katz; and panel of trafficking and exploitation survivors led by Colorado leaders Judge Robert Lung; Jill Brogdon from the Colorado Human Trafficking Council; Mary Landerholm, from Colorado’s Human Trafficking Hotline; and Sara Nadelman from the Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS), Office of Children, Youth and Families.

In addition, Gretchen Russo from the CDHS Office of Children, Youth and Families and Anders Jacobson, director of the CDHS Division of Youth Services were also invited to speak about Colorado's innovative and effective juvenile justice efforts to reduce seclusion, support trauma-informed practice and support youth that cross over child welfare and juvenile justice systems.

Local Colorado Judges also received national recognition. Judge Donna Schmalberger from Denver Juvenile Court and Judge Katherine Delgado from the Adams County District Court received the Impact of the Year Award for their work in establishing ICWA (Indian Child Welfare Act) Specialized Courts. 

The Hon. Katharine (Katie) Sullivan, Acting Director of the U.S. Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) also was in attendance and delivered remarks highlighting the 20-year partnership between OVW and the NCJFCJ and the importance of judicial leadership in communities.

“The NCJFCJ is proud to be the leader in providing unique multi-disciplinary opportunities for judges and court professionals to convene and discuss the newest information affecting children and families in our nation’s courts,” said Judge John J. Romero, Jr., NCJFCJ president. “At some point in a person’s life, one will be affected by an issue in juvenile or family court, whether it be directly or through a someone they know. It is important, now more than ever, for judges and court professionals to be educated and informed about the best practices, research and data available.”

The NCJFCJ also offered new educational opportunities to its participants including an experiential excursion to Happy Dog Ranch, a local nonprofit therapeutic horse rescue and sanctuary. Led by Dr. Rebecca Bailey, Transitioning Families, and Nina Ekholm Fry, director of equine programs at the University of Denver, judicial participants learned about different tools to alleviate stress; the importance of self-care and healing; and how equine therapy relates to the vulnerable children and families that come before them at the bench. A post-conference workshop was also offered on court and personal security taught by former U.S. Marshal John F. Muffler.

Other Justice Innovation Awards were also announced at the conference. The UNLV Immigration Clinic at the William S. Boyd School of Law received the Innovator of the Year award for their mission to offer law students real world experience providing pro bono deportation defense and as a community leader in protecting children and families in Nevada. Dr. Rebecca Nathanson, Associate Dean for Experiential Legal Education, UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law and Claudia Noriega-Bernstein, Marketing Director, Edward M. Bernstein & Associates were present to accept the award.

For more information on the NCJFCJ, visit

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