Tribute to Chief Judge Kaye
Commission mourns the loss of former Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye, Longtime Commission Chair.
To honor Former Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye’s commitment to improve the lives and life chances of the children who come before the New York State Courts, a scholarship fund has been established at the request of the Kaye family. The Judith S. Kaye Scholarship will support youth in foster care who are attending college. (www.JudithKayeScholarship.com)
Judge Kaye’s many judicial accomplishments, landmark decisions and dissents, and glass ceiling breakthroughs are well documented. While not often framed in social terms, a substantial number of those accomplishments focused on the well-being of children and families. Judge Kaye’s “passion,” as she termed it, was her work to improve the lives of New York’s children and families. Judge Kaye raised the stature of the “quintessentially important” Family Court by valuing the work of the judges, attorneys, court personnel and the myriad agencies and professionals that help families in times of crisis. Every time she had the opportunity to hear from young people themselves about their lives, their struggles, their dreams, she was invigorated – juiced – as she would say, with new determination to make a call, give a speech, convene a taskforce, travel across the state, any action that would open doors, change hearts and effect the change she knew we needed to make to truly improve the lives and life chances of New York’s children.
Since 1992, Judge Kaye chaired the Permanent Judicial Commission on Justice for Children, first as an Associate Judge and continuing through her years as Chief Judge. After her mandatory retirement, she continued as chair while at Skadden. Her active participation and support, willingness to lend her stature, credibility and her incredibly passionate voice to the issues we addressed made the difference in what the Commission has been able to accomplish.
Focusing on the educational needs of children in out-of-home care – including championing state support for their higher education success, addressing issues regarding children with incarcerated parents, and creating Children’s Centers in the courts are a few of the projects undertaken by the Commission under Judge Kaye’s leadership. Recently, our attention has focused on the school-to-prison pipeline, and the negative consequences of punitive and exclusionary discipline and arrest in schools. One highlight was the convening of chief justices and education leaders from 45 jurisdictions, the first National Summit on School-Justice Partnerships: Keeping Kids in School and Out of Court, with the unforgettable image of Judge Kaye ringing the bell – from the one room schoolhouse she attended – to call the summit to order.
Judge Kaye shared her purpose and passion in a letter, in response to the Commission’s October 18, 2010 meeting that featured a performance by youth in foster care from the Harlem Dowling and Little Flower foster care agencies of To Whom It May Concern1– a consciousness raising play regarding the challenges faced by youth in foster care. This play was based upon letters youth wrote in which they could share whatever it was they felt people should know about them and their lives. These letters provided an opportunity for the teens to share some difficult truths about their lives, including stories and feelings that some of them had never shared before. To complement this performance, Commission members and guests who attended the meeting were given the opportunity to tell these courageous young people why the work they do is their passion in their respective letters.
The Commission will continue her work and her passion. Her charge to us: As an interdisciplinary children’s Commission based in the judiciary, we have been able to harness the authority and prestige of the judiciary to launch and sustain projects and to shape policy that improve court proceedings and maximize the well-being of children in out-of-home care. We have enjoyed the incredible benefit of a largely constant, invariably outstanding, interdisciplinary Commission membership -– dedicated representatives from all three branches of government, from the bar, and from fields such as medicine, social work, child development, education and child advocacy. What unites us, and what keeps us, is the belief that we can improve lives of children.
1 To Whom It May Concern is a production of the My Purpose Party (MPP)TM youth program, founded by actress Ari Meyers. MPP is built on a strength-based model that helps young people build self-esteem, encourages their ability to be creative and fosters their sense of having something valuable to offer the world.