It’s an early afternoon in September, and five teenagers trickle into the CPS Project Court downtown, their court-appointed attorneys, caseworkers and special advocates trailing behind them. The youths leave the adults in the courtroom, retreating through a restricted-access door, into a room full of toys and books, with a Japanese anime cartoon on TV.
They’re here for Judge Katrina Griffith’s Preparation for Adult Living (PAL) docket, a session for children on the cusp of aging out of care, with the goal of helping them prepare for life on their own. Every few months, each group of PAL teens—in this case, two juniors and three seniors—is required to attend these informal meetings with Griffith, complete with pizza and soda, before attending their formal hearings in her CPS court next door.
The court was established in 2014, as part of an effort to bring down the number of Harris County children in permanent managing conservatorship. Griffith, who’s been at the helm since its inception, hears only cases of kids in long-term care, about 600 of them, whose suits were filed in Harris County. She sets frequent hearings for them and their representatives, checking in on everything from kids’ medications to their behavior in school, and questioning them on their feelings and experiences.
“I think it’s important for kids to be involved in their cases. They’ve told me things that they’ve never told their caseworker,” Griffith says. “We try to hear each case a minimum of every four months, a lot of times every three months. If something’s going on, we’ll see them monthly or weekly.”