Justice Bobbe Bridge (Ret.) has not only spent a career in and out of courtrooms advocating for children and youth, but she’s spent a lifetime listening and learning from young people.
“I think what it comes down to, is just the sheer rage in me about the way we as a public and we as individuals treat children,” said Bridge. “They are probably one of the last vestiges of people being treated as property. They are not listened to and not respected. In family law, it comes out most clearly as an attitude that children are to be seen and not heard, and that they are to be bargained for in the context of a divorce. I think it’s outrageous.”
Before she built Center for Children & Youth Justice (CCYJ),
Justice Bridge worked in as an attorney at a private practice for fourteen years before entering public service. She served as King County Juvenile Court’s Chief Judge from 1994 to 1997 and eventually was appointed to the Washington State Supreme Court in 1999 by Governor Gary Locke, where she served before resigning her judgeship in 2007. Throughout Justice Bridge’s long and storied career in law, she’s consistently volunteered her time to youth welfare and justice programs.
“My father-in-law really summed it all up the most,” reflected Bridge. “He’s been one of my strongest mentors and he holds a blessed memory, he just died last year. He referred to public service, community service, and volunteer activity as the rent we pay for the space that we occupy on earth. I really believe that.”
In 2006, Bridge founded the Center for Children & Youth Justice, a one-of-a-kind agency which advocates for greater systems reform to benefit young people across Washington State by working directly between children and youth, the juvenile justice system, and child welfare programs.
“In our work at CCYJ, in every project that we do, we listen to the voices of children and youth,” said Bridge. “Granted that we believe that sometimes that voice might need guidance… We know that from adolescent brain development, they tend to be impetuous and impulsive. But that doesn’t mean they need to be ignored. We need to respect those voices and learn from them.”
CCYJ takes a pioneering approach to pilot new projects which analyze research on childhood development, canvas feedback from young people in those systems, and then develop collaborative solutions.
“We spend billions of tax-payer dollars every year and loads of private money from foundations and individuals in order to provide good service for these kids who come to these systems because they have been abused, neglected, or otherwise gone astray. But mostly, they come to these places because they have been failed by the adults in their lives in one sense or form,” said Bridge. “They need assistance and (our government) has erected systems in order to do that. But they’re failing miserably. We bring people together in a collaborative and respectful form. Together, we can make a more powerful impact in a young person’s life.”
It’s through these collaborative projects and work with at-risk youth, that CCYJ observed the gross over-representation of LGBTQ-identified youth within these systems and homeless populations. With this information, CCYJ launched the eQuality Project in 2013, the first statewide effort to address these disparities. The multi-phase project is designed to provide professionals who work with LGBTQ youth the knowledge and tools to address their unique needs and implement lasting change across government systems, forging pathways to a healthy adulthood.
“We started out by listening to the voices of LGBTQ youth who had experiences in one or both of the systems, and most of them had some experience of being homeless too” said Bridge. “We’ve launched data collections and trainings in both Spokane and King County. We’re trying to bring it to three other counties, hopefully, within this next coming year.”
As her career and personal impact now spans decades, Justice Bridge has come out of retirement twice to continue her work fighting for children and youth. She is now retiring for the third time and thinks, “The third time’s the charm.”
GSBA solutes Justice Bridge for her tireless commitment to Washington State’s at-risk youth and being a champion for young LBGTQ people.
Join us in honoring Justice Bridge’s lifetime of achievements during Justice for All: 38th Annual Business & Humanitarian Awards Dinner on Thursday, February 21 at Seattle Marriott Waterfront: http://bit.ly/2Rzxo3i