Local judge works to preserve families, protect children’s futures

Judge Wenona Belton works in Fulton County juvenile court

Each month, as part of our Aging in Atlanta series, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution introduces readers to a member of the city’s thriving 55+ community. This month, we profile Judge Wenona Clark Belton of Atlanta.

Raised in suburban Washington, D.C., Judge Belton relocated to Atlanta about 30 years ago. After working in fashion merchandising and attending paralegal school, Belton enrolled in law school twenty years after getting her undergraduate degree. Today, Belton serves as a judge for the juvenile court system in Fulton County and as a board member of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. Additionally, Belton is a cabinet member for Get Georgia Reading, where she aims to improve children’s futures by promoting reading proficiency.

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Can you share a bit about your career path to becoming a juvenile court judge?

I never anticipated that I would be a judge, much less an attorney. If someone had suggested that would be my life today, I would have laughed at them.

After passing the bar exam, I had no intention of practicing law. I was encouraged to pursue an opportunity to serve as a staff attorney in juvenile court – you could say that juvenile law chose me! Juvenile court was a great fit for me as a former foster parent and CASA volunteer (Court Appointed Special Advocate). The goal is to preserve families, (and) protect children and the public.

I have not engaged in this work alone. I have been supported and mentored by many wonderful friends, family, attorneys and colleagues.

What motivates you each day?

In my chambers, I have a photograph of the simple clapboard house that my paternal grandfather built on his farm in southern Virginia more than 100 years ago. It keeps me grounded. The memories of how my grandparents and parents worked and sacrificed so that I can serve are my greatest motivations.

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

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What is the most rewarding aspect of your career as a judge?

Serving as a board member of the NCJFCJ and being actively involved in the ongoing transformation and evolving innovation in child welfare and juvenile justice. We apply data and science to decrease court contact and improve outcomes for children, families, and communities.

What is the most challenging aspect of your role?

Taking myself out of my frame of reference of my upbringing, not relying on first impressions, and acknowledging secondary or vicarious trauma exists. I see children and families impacted by trauma every day. The network of NCJFCJ council-involved judges nationwide who are also engaged in this work helps tremendously.

How do you relax and decompress from your demanding career?

I love, love, love the serenity of the North Georgia Mountains and the beauty of the Golden Isles. Closer to home, I do yoga and love playing with my 10-pound chihuahua mix and taking advantage of my local YMCA.

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