Leslie Barrett Kinkead, Longtime Tennessee Court Improvement Program Coordinator, Honored With Meritorious Award

August 27, 2019

Leslie Barrett Kinkead, the longtime coordinator of the Tennessee Court Improvement Program at the Administrative Office of the Courts, was recognized for her decades of service recently at a statewide conference for juvenile court professionals.

Kinkead, whose dedication and influence in the field has led some to refer to her as the godmother of juvenile courts in Tennessee, was presented with the 2019 Meritorious Award at the joint Tennessee Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges/Tennessee Juvenile Court Services Association Conference in Franklin. That award is given each year by the TJCSA to “an individual deserving honor for significant contributions towards the field of juvenile justice.”

Kinkead began her work at the AOC with the Tennessee Court Improvement Program in 1998. That program uses federal grant funding to improve the state’s judicial system in regard to child welfare practice. As coordinator of the program, Kinkead conducts training sessions for judges and other child welfare professionals, provides technical assistance to courts, and staffs the Court Improvement Work Group, which drafts revisions to statutes and juvenile court procedural rules.

Over the course of her career, Kinkead has worked alongside a number of Tennessee judges and court professionals, including Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Connie Clark. Justice Clark commended Kinkead for her wholehearted commitment to the cause of juvenile justice over the course of her career.

"Leslie is unique in her knowledge of the problems children face in our court system, her passion for improving the services they receive, and her ability to bring all stakeholders together to solve those problems,” Justice Clark said.

AOC Director Deborah Taylor Tate has known and worked with Kinkead throughout her career. She joined Justice Clark in praising Kinkead and her diligent work on behalf of the children of Tennessee.

“From the moment I began representing children in Juvenile Court, Leslie was the ‘go-to’ person in terms of process, procedure, and ensuring the rights of children were protected,” Director Tate said. “It is indeed an honor to work every day with a life-long public servant who has ensured that justice for all included our smallest and most vulnerable citizens.”

Henry County General Sessions and Juvenile Court Judge Vicki Snyder, who is also the current president of the TCJFCJ, is another who has witnessed Kinkead’s positive impact.

“Leslie has been a true friend and asset to the TCJFCJ,” Judge Snyder said. “In addition, the Executive and Legislative Committees rely heavily on her for advice and assistance, which she provides without hesitation and complaint. The Juvenile Justice Reform Act has been a difficult transition for the judges and staff. I’m certain that without Leslie’s guidance, assistance, and training we would not be able to serve the children and families of Tennessee. On a personal note, I am very grateful for the opportunity to work with and learn from Leslie. She is an inspiration.”

While Kinkead has a reputation of working quietly and diligently behind the scenes and out of the limelight, her efforts have not gone unnoticed by the judges who utilize her expertise daily.

“Leslie is most deserving of this award due to her years of tireless service to the juvenile court system in Tennessee,” Stewart County General Sessions and Juvenile Court Judge G. Andrew Brigham said. “She has trained countless judges (including me), lawyers, and court staff, and not only does she know what the law is, she knows what it should be. She practically singlehandedly rewrote the Rules of Juvenile Practice and Procedure and has been involved in crafting numerous legislative measures for over three decades. Her contributions will never be equaled.”

“I’ve worked with Leslie since 1998,” Coffee County General Sessions and Juvenile Court Judge Timothy R. Brock said. “She’s been there throughout all the dramatic changes we’ve had in child welfare over the last 20 years. Leslie has elevated the bench. We would not be what we are today without Leslie, there’s no doubt about that. She has provided invaluable technical assistance and training. It’s been invaluable.”

“Leslie’s passionate about her job, passionate about kids, and it shows in her work and her presentation,” Wilson County General Sessions and Juvenile Court Judge C. Barry Tatum said. “And recognition for her is long overdue and certainly well deserved.”

“Leslie is a tireless advocate for our children,” Williamson County Juvenile Court Judge Sharon E. Guffee said. “Her experience and knowledge of juvenile law and its history is irreplaceable.”

Judges were not the only ones with kind things to say about Kinkead. Many of the court staff she has worked with during her career also took the time to applaud Kinkead’s service.

“Honoring Leslie and her efforts to improve our state’s juvenile court system was a true pleasure,” Williamson County Juvenile Services Director Zannie Martin said. “This is much deserved as Leslie has advocated for responsible improvements to our system for years, thus contributing towards good outcomes for Tennessee’s children.”

“Leslie has been instrumental in helping us navigate the Reform Act of 2018,” Maury County Juvenile Court Administrator Nicolas Abdallah said.  “Without her guidance and support the task would have been much more difficult. I would also note that the Court Improvement Program has been crucial to our Foster Care Review Board and we are so thankful for the training and support.”

“Leslie has been a lifeline for me many time over the last 10 years since I became a youth service officer,” Madison County Juvenile Court Services Director Amy Jones said. “No matter how random and crazy my question, if she doesn’t know the answer, she’ll find it for me. People who are willing to do that for you are few and far between these days, so I appreciate Leslie very much. When they called her name as the award recipient, all I could think was, ‘Well-deserved and long overdue!’”

Kinkead’s influence, knowledge, and passion for her work has been much appreciated among her colleagues at the AOC as well. The AOC’s juvenile court program coordinator Stephanie Etheridge had nothing but praise for Kinkead, with whom she has worked since 2012.

“Leslie is an incredible person with an unbelievable amount of knowledge and expertise,” Etheridge said. “She is a wonderful mentor who is appreciated and respected by everyone.”

Prior to joining the AOC, Kinkead was in private legal practice for five years in Nashville. She also served as assistant district attorney for the Davidson County Juvenile Court.

She received her Juris Doctorate in 1988 from the Nashville School of Law and has Bachelor of Science degrees in social work and psychology from Thomas More College.

Kinkead is a member of the Tennessee Bar Association and serves on the executive committee of the Juvenile and Children’s Law Section. She was previously honored statewide with the TN CASA Advocate of the Year Award in 2008.

Williamson County Juvenile Services Director Zannie Martin presents the Meritorious Award to Leslie Barrett Kinkead

Leslie Barrett Kinkead shortly after the announcement of the award