Barbara Smith, court administrator of the 33rd Circuit Juvenile Court, received the Missouri Juvenile Justice Association's Andrew Jackson Higgins Excellence in Juvenile Justice Award. The award recognizes an individual who is committed to assuring a quality juvenile justice service delivery system in Missouri.
Judge David Dolan was among those adding their support to the nomination of Smith who has worked 24 years with the juvenile court. "She has been a pioneer in the juvenile justice system ... not just for our circuit but for the juvenile justice system in Missouri," he said. "She is well-deserving of the award."
Smith was named court administrator for the 33rd Judicial Circuit in 1981 by then Circuit Judge Tony Heckemeyer. Typically only larger circuits had a court administrator for the juvenile court, but Heckemeyer was looking for alternatives in dealing with juvenile problems when he made the appointment, she recalled.
Smith brought some valuable skills with her to the job. Prior to her appointment, she taught school for 12 years and was prevention/education director for the alcohol and drug abuse unit at Ozark Community Counseling Center in Poplar Bluff for two and half years. While working with a program, Smith developed a drug/alcohol prevention program for at-risk youth, a program which was one of 10 demonstration projects for Missouri.
Innovation was essential in the beginning. "For the first five years there wasn't a salary - I had to find my own salary through various grants so getting paid to do my job was a highlight," she said with a laugh.
Working from a small office and sharing one phone with the secretary, juvenile officer and deputy juvenile officer, Smith said there were no real guidelines back then for juvenile authorities on how they could best serve children. As she learned her job working with the court system and with juveniles and their parents, she saw the need for training.
In 1983, in cooperation with the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, Smith designed and taught a three-day course, "Language of the Courts." This course brought together all those who work with the juvenile court system and taught them skills in testifying.
As a member of the Supreme Court-appointed Juvenile Division Education Committee, she has worked to develop training standards for Missouri's juvenile court professionals. Today, she helps teach a 40-hour fundamental skills course for Missouri juvenile officers twice a year. Also she helps write a desktop guide to good juvenile practices.
Smith said she is proud of being a part of today's emphasis on standards, education and training for juvenile officials. "After all, you are dealing with life decisions," she noted.
In addition to serving as the president of the Missouri Juvenile Justice Association, Smith has served as the president of the National Juvenile Court Services Association. Being involved at the national level enabled her to learn cutting edge practices and gain an understanding of successful programs used elsewhere which she could implement locally.
In 1997, Smith began the first Juvenile Drug Court not just in Missouri but in the entire United States. Also she worked with the University of Missouri Extension to create the Youth Tutoring Youth Program, which has served as model for similar programs across the state.
As the court administrator, Smith's duties include supervisory responsibility over the personnel and the programming for the juveniles along with lots of paperwork including evaluations, reports and grants.
The juvenile office's staff and facilities are much bigger today (and they no longer have to share one phone). "I have to say we have come a long way. That is what I'm proudest of - we have a system now with all the technology and things we need to help the kids," she said.
Pausing to reflect, Smith said they need these advances and training, explaining the juvenile crimes have changed over the past two decades. The crimes today may involve drugs and even assaults with weapons. Also the office assists children in abusive situations or who are neglected.
While much of the last 24 years has been learning on the job, Smith praises Heckemeyer and Dolan for their role in creating a strong juvenile system locally. Also, she added, the namesake of her most recent honor, Supreme Court Judge Andrew Jackson Higgins, served as a mentor for her work.
"And I couldn't have done this without the support of my family who have always been behind and cheered me on," she added.
Smith has other honors. In 1997, she was the recipient of the "Outstanding Juvenile Court Administration" award given by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges while in 2000, she was the recipient of the Sikeston Area Chamber of Commerce's Careerist of the Year award. In 2003 the Missouri Association of Drug Court Professionals honored her as a founder and charter member of the association.
But her most recent award, she described as especially meaningful.
"This award just means so much because of who it is named after and my colleagues thought I was worthy of it," she said. "To think that the entire state that works with kids thinks you are worthy of honor - well, my life is pretty complete."