Posted by: Beverly Davidson, LMSW | October 14, 2014

Why I am voting for Tracy Van den Bergh for Probate Judge

As a social worker I periodically interface with the county court system, and many of my families do on a regular basis. In fact, people have a higher likelihood of interacting with the probate system more than any other court. One of the most important Washtenaw county elections this November is the race between Tracy Van den Bergh and Julia Owdziej for Washtenaw County Probate Judge.  A Probate Court judge will be responsible for handling cases such as involuntary hospitalizations, divorce and custody, guardianship cases and child abuse and neglect cases.  This will invariably involve people affected by mental health disorders, substance abuse issues, child abuse and neglect, and family violence.   Therefore, a Probate Court judge must be someone who has legal expertise as well as clinical experience and knowledge working with people who are deeply affected by psychological and social issues.   Tracy Van den Bergh’s experience as an attorney and clinical social worker make her the clear choice for Washtenaw County Probate Court Judge.

A Probate Court judge makes life-altering decisions for an individual and family.    Ms. Van den Bergh has spent her career prioritizing the needs of at-risk families who are dealing with mental illness, substance abuse, and poverty, many of whom have had traumatic histories in their childhood.   A Probate Court judge will be deciding cases involving families dealing with patterns of abuse – parents who abuse children because they were abused themselves, guardianship cases arising due to a parent’s substance abuse who was raised in an alcoholic home, or deciding on an involuntary hospitalization of a mentally ill person who has not had appropriate outpatient or inpatient treatment.    It is therefore imperative that a Probate Court judge understands not only the law, but also how trauma affects the lives of individuals ,families, and the systems in which these operate.

A groundbreaking study, ACES, has shown that adverse childhood experiences (child abuse and/or neglect, family violence, substance abusing parent and other traumatic stressors) increase the likelihood that, as an adult, one will struggle with substance abuse, chronic disease, partner violence, mental illness and poverty, to name just a few. (  Because of this research, many judges across the country are now implementing a trauma-informed approach to the judiciary.   These judges have:

As a clinical social worker who has worked in the public sector for 26 years, I have served hundreds and hundreds of children, adults, and families affected by traumatic childhoods, and have witnessed their treatment in courtrooms.  The “punish first” approach often resulted in unfair decisions, rights being violated, and a lack of services being provided.   This in turn perpetuated the problems that brought them before the court in the first place.  I had an opportunity to interview Ms. Van den Bergh about the probate court system and changes that need to be made.  Not only was she willing and excited to think creatively about how to serve people, versus maintaining the status quo, she was also able to articulate how a history of trauma can affect a person.  She stated:

“I believe understanding and acknowledging trauma helps to engage court participants in services, treatment and judicial interventions that maximize opportunities for a positive outcome.  As an attorney, who is also a clinical social worker, I am uniquely qualified to implement trauma-informed practices at the Probate Court that will result in better outcomes for all court participants.”

She has a vision for how the Probate Court can not only provide legal guidance, but also help clients secure needed community resources to rectify problems that brought them to court.  In my many discussions with Ms. Van den Bergh, I am increasingly energized by her dedication to public service and her willingness to look at new and innovative ways to help individuals and families who are in trouble.   She will infuse the court system with a unique combination of high legal intelligence, dedication to social justice, and hope that our system can and must do better.  And, as a social worker, hope is sometimes the only thing we have. She will not abdicate personal responsibility in her decisions, rather she will look at an issue from every angle, every lens, and make a compassionate, legally sound decision coupled with obtaining the supports necessary for a better outcome.

Check out for more information about the next Washtenaw County Probate Court Judge…..



  1. She has my vote!

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