SAN BERNARDINO—Custody battles, juvenile crime, truancy, abuse and separation from family.
These are just some of the traumas impacting children and youth in the Diocese that involve the court system.
The role that the faith community can play in easing and addressing these crises was explored May 3 at “Courts & Kids and Clergy: Children in the Court System in San Bernardino County.”
Held at the Diocesan Pastoral Center, the conference brought representatives of Christian, Muslim and Jewish faiths together with local judges and representatives of the court system to share information and envision avenues for collaboration.
“Our kids need you in this community,” San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Erin Alexander told clergy in attendance during a presentation on the juvenile court system. “There’s a lot more that can be done if we understand the juvenile system a little better.”
Breakout sessions were offered on such topics as juvenile probation, foster care placement, student attendance and mandatory reporting of child abuse. Many clergy in attendance said it was valuable to hear the perspective of court officials and to learn more about the inner workings of the system.
“I’ve been through it on the side of people trying to navigate these systems,” said Rev. Petra Malleis-Sternberg, Senior Minister of First Congregational United Church of Christ in San Bernardino. “This gives me the information that allows me to help them more effectively.”
Father Jacob Vettathu, MS, Pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Montclair, said the information provided at the May 3 Conference will help him go beyond pastoral advice when it comes to helping families in his community.
“If parents are having problems we can tell them practically what are things for them to consider,” he said.
A recurring message of court officials throughout the day was that the faith community can help provide the structure that many youth in crisis are lacking.
“A lot of kids that I have seen do not have the discipline that comes from faith,” said Winston Keh, an attorney and San Bernardino County Superior Court Commissioner. “That’s where the clergy comes in.”
Court officials said churches are needed to perform a variety of volunteer functions from providing transportation to families for court hearings and appointments, to facilitating supervised visitations between children and their parents involved in custody issues, to providing juvenile offenders with opportunities to perform community service, to supporting immigrant children and their families.
The closing presentation of the conference covered immigration laws, trends and the concept of sanctuary churches. Attorney Julie Hartle of the University of California, Irvine School of Law, Immigration Clinic, said legal precedent suggests that churches who give physical sanctuary to undocumented immigrants are not breaking the law, unless they attempt to conceal immigrants from authorities such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
“At that point you would face penalties,” Hartle said. “You would be committing an act of civil disobedience.”
The Conference marked the third time in the past decade that court officials and clergy had gathered to exchange information and dialogue. Both Bishop Gerald Barnes, who offered welcoming remarks, and Judge Cynthia Ludvigsen, Chair of the Event, espoused the benefits of courts and clergy working together more closely.
Earlier during a breakout session, San Bernardino County Probation Officer Cynthia Wallace-Guerrero was more emphatic in her call to the local clergy.
“What I need from this community is to wrap their arms around these youth and give them a purpose.”