During her sophomore year in high school, Judy Tudor studied for her finals while living in Child Haven. She got A’s throughout high school, putting on a brave face while inside she struggled to understand the pressures around her, reminding herself that foster care was a better place to be.
“It was still scary. Family, relationships were hurt. It affected me like it was my fault,” said Tudor, ’94 BA Social Work, ’97 MA Social Work.
Tudor credits foster care for saving her life but the confusing memories — of her being taken out of school, placed in a basement-like room, and meeting people who were supposed to be her advocates — are still there. Initially, it was rare to find someone with whom she shared a bond.
“Every time I had a court hearing I would have nightmares because it was a scary process. People wouldn’t believe what was happening in my home,” Tudor said. “I was very upset and if someone stopped to ask me, that would have given me an outlet to share that and process that.”
Tudor channeled these feelings into a career of ensuring that children have a voice. She began her 20-year career as a caseworker and rose up to leadership roles as a supervisor and manager of several units within the Nevada State Division of Family Services and Clark County Department of Family Services. She is now a training specialist for a UNLV School of Social Work workforce development program that works with local agencies.
“I now get to spend up to 12 weeks — before anyone gets a desk or gets cases — to really talk with them about how you approach this work. To me, it is a real blessing to be able to do that and share with them the things that I have learned,” Tudor said.
A Lifelong Mentor
Growing up, Tudor experienced years of abuse, and an unstable stepfather, as her mother struggled with poverty and addiction. By age 15, she was placed into foster care. She eventually was placed in foster care with an aunt by marriage, the former wife of her mother’s brother, until she aged out of the system.
At 16, Tudor became paralyzed from the waist down. Doctors thought the shock of being taken out of her family caused psychosomatic symptoms or that she was abusing drugs herself. She remembers taking tests, and seeing doctors and therapists — people she didn’t know were inspecting her without understanding her. She felt like she did something wrong to cause the separation from her mother and brother, something wrong that caused the paralysis. Doctors eventually diagnosed her with transverse myelitis, a spinal cord condition.
Her lifelong mission to help children and families formed, during a weeklong camp for teens in foster care at Lake Tahoe. Tudor was among the teens asked to share their opinions with public officials on ways to improve the child welfare system and why foster care youth should get an allowance. It was a novel experience to be asked her opinion by adults on important legislation. One of the officials was Thom Reilly, then a child welfare administrator who went on to become Clark County Manager.
“She was very articulate at that age, and a lot of the youth had difficulty articulating themselves,” Reilly said. “She was pretty clear, outspoken, and engaged.”
Reilly recognized her strengths as a leader and later invited her to testify at a legislative hearing. The two would keep in touch. When Tudor attended UNLV as a social work major, she took courses that Reilly taught as an adjunct instructor. He helped her understand she could have a bigger impact in child welfare through a management role. She went to receive her bachelor and master’s degrees in social work and also interned under Reilly’s mentorship at Clark County Department of Family Services.
Reilly is director of the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona State University School of Public Affairs. Tudor and Reilly often exchange ideas and are on several boards for the Blue Ribbon for Kids Commission in Nevada, which is focused on improving the child welfare and family court systems.
Tudor has an intimate understanding of a complex bureaucracy, Reilly said, and manages the difficult balance between her roles as an advocate and a professional within the system. It’s given her authority with children and foster parents, as well as judge and legislators. “She speaks from the heart. She speaks from a very confident position, and she speaks from a compassionate and personal passion. When she couples that with professional experience, he said, “It’s hard not to listen.”
With Reilly’s mentoring, Tudor eventually became manager in the independent living unit for teens 15 and older at the Department of Family Services. She wanted to hear from the teens about what they wanted to see changed in the system – just as Reilly had asked her years earlier at the youth camp. She helped develop a youth advisory board in Clark County and a state-wide advisory board to help foster kids have a voice. It’s one of the best moments of her career.
She’s part of the Foster Care Alumni of America and through the Nevada chapter; she’s found support among people like her, who were much older when they entered foster care. She finds that happening a lot more now – older kids who haven’t achieved permanency have nowhere to turn. Her fellow volunteers put on events for former foster youth who don’t have anywhere to go for holidays like Thanksgiving.
Earlier this summer, Tudor got a call from a now grown woman whom she’d helped. The woman was 13 when her mom abandoned her. Years later, Tudor got to hear how she was doing and the woman wanted advice about her own daughter.
The call reminded Tudor that foster kids need to make personal connections and have mentors they can count on after leaving the foster care system.
“You had to be the person that had that impact and when it didn’t come from somewhere else in their family,” Tudor said.
“A Reason for Everything”
When she thinks back on her wedding day, Tudor remembers final exams and flowers. That’s because she got married on UNLV commencement day, May 14, 1994. The flowers were from the Court Appointed Special Advocate (and flower shop owner) who had helped her through the court system during her years in foster care.
She met her husband, Glenn Tudor, 94 BA Business and Marketing, at UNLV. Her big sister in her sorority (Alpha Gamma Delta) was dating his little brother (Lambda Chi Alpha). The two now have two daughters: Alexis, 17 and Alyssa, 15. The family loves anything to do with Disney and have travelled to Japan and Paris to experience Disney adventures.
Telling her story isn’t easy but Tudor praises her faith for the opportunity to share her experiences.
“I believe that these things that I have experienced happen for a reason. I don’t understand what that reason is but maybe someone else will hear this story and be inspired by it. Or it will help them in some way that I’ll never know — and I don’t need to know,” Tudor said
Fairy tales aren’t all fantasy, she said; they are inspired by stories of perseverance. “I think Mickey Mouse and Disney, for me, are about believing that your dreams can come true no matter how the story starts. Everyone can have a happy ending.”