Davidson County Juvenile Court Judge Sheila Calloway Honored with Senator Douglas Henry Public Official of the Year Award

March 18, 2022

The Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth (TCCY) honored Davidson County Juvenile Court Judge Sheila Calloway with the Senator Douglas Henry Public Official of the Year Award at its annual Children’s Advocacy Days, March 8-9.

“I never met Senator Henry. He was a true public servant. Everyone on all sides of the table believed in him and his integrity,” Judge Calloway said. “His work was just good work. It’s truly an honor to be recognized as someone who is also a servant. I absolutely love my job and love what I do. I do it not to be honored or admired; I do it because it’s what I love and it’s my passion. I had a terrific childhood, and I just believe everyone should be able to have the same opportunities that I had. It’s my life’s mission. To be honored for what I think God put into me, my passions, it’s definitely humbling and I’m appreciative.”

Judge Calloway was recognized for her work on the behalf of Tennessee children, specifically her implementation of a trauma-informed youth justice system that’s helping to change the lives of Nashville youth.

“We are working with the family center for trauma-informed care,” Judge Calloway said. “We have a resilience team that makes recommendations on things we can do as a court to make sure all of our decisions, all of our policies are trauma-informed. We’ve done actual policies for all of our teams – our judicial officers, our probation officers, our warrant officers – every team has a policy on how they can deliver services in a most trauma-informed way. Through our resiliency committee, we’ve done training on trauma-informed care.”

The Foster Resilience Committee was formed in late 2018 and includes members from every court department, as well as outside partners. It’s in place to ensure the court is designing programs or policies to help support the court staff and the youth they serve.

“I think for me the biggest piece is we’ve made it not only an idea, but we’ve made it a policy,” Judge Calloway said. “People understand that when you come to work at juvenile court, you’re expected to understand what it means to be trauma-informed. Working in youth justice is such a high stress area, so we want our employees in the midst of working with families who are always in crisis to be informed."

Judge Calloway can already see that the trauma-informed approach is making a difference.

“I see a lot of differences,” Judge Calloway said. “There are so few incidences in the courthouses. Previously, there probably were a lot of times where court officers would literally have to put people in custody or put people in restraints from conflicts that were happening in the courthouse. Since we’ve done our trauma-informed work, we have very few incidences of behavioral stuff that’s happened in the courthouse.”

There have also been fewer judicial complaints, including fewer appeals.

“When people feel like they’ve been heard, whether they win or lose, then it’s less likely they will appeal their decision to a higher court,” Judge Calloway said. “We have seen more families learning to work together better and learning to co-parent through some of this work. We have mediators on staff who are serving as that help point for people. I think we’ve just seen a lot of progress.”

Judge Calloway doesn’t believe the progress is all due to the trauma-informed program, but said the overall number of youths being arrested or brought into the juvenile justice system is declining. This is despite an uptick in violent crimes committed in Nashville.

“The number we are able to divert from prosecution is also increasing,” Judge Calloway said. “The recidivism rate of those youth coming back into the system is declining. I think all of the efforts we are making to be trauma-informed, to address the traumas people bring to court with them, has helped us to reduce the number of kids that go into the system.”

Still, there’s more Judge Calloway would like to accomplish. First on her list is the Nashville Youth Campus for Empowerment, a new juvenile justice facility.

“It’s going to be a true campus, like a college campus,” Judge Calloway said. “I want it to be from wall-to-wall, building-to-building, trauma-informed. It makes a difference. The way that our building is now, there’s no waiting room, there’s no way to separate people who may not be getting along. Other than court officers doing their jobs, we shouldn’t have to do that. There should be space for people to sit away from each other, comfort rooms, just things people need to deescalate themselves. Much green space, green outdoor areas for people to come and wait for court hearings, things like that.”

The TCCY is an independent agency whose primary mission is to advocate for improvements in the quality of life for Tennessee children and families. Children’s Advocacy Days is an annual event for children’s advocates, service providers and others to gather with the goal of improving outcomes for children, youth and families.



Judge Sheila Calloway

Richard Kennedy, Executive Director, Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth presents the award to Judge Sheila Calloway