The Barton Child Law and Policy Clinic was established in March 2000 to address the need in Georgia for an organization dedicated to bringing about systemic policy and process changes for the benefit of the children in Georgia's child welfare system. The origins of the Barton Center are in Emory University Law School's Child Advocacy Project, which was started in 1992 to provide summer child advocacy internships for Emory Law students. The establishment of the year-round multi-disciplinary center with a full-time director was made possible by a partnership formed by law school dean Woody Hunter and child advocates Michelle and Andy Barclay, who pledged a generous commitment from the L.W. Barton Foundation Fund. In 2010, the Barton Clinic was renamed the Barton Child Law and Policy Center in recognition of the expanding work and scope of the Center, including multiple clinical offerings, fellowships, projects, and programs.

Two Catalysts

In 1998 and 1999, two seemingly unrelated occurrences converged to change child welfare practice in Georgia. On January 15, 1998, five-year-old Terrell Peterson was murdered by his siblings' grandmother who was his legal guardian based on an agreement arranged by the Fulton County Department of Family and Children Services. In 1999, the Springhouse Farm in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, was sold to the township of Cherry Hill.

Terrell Peterson's death was covered by Time Magazine and Oprah Winfrey. The systemic and preventable failures in the child welfare, court, and medical systems that contributed to his death motivated people in Georgia to reform the systems responsible for protecting Georgia's most vulnerable children. Two people who were moved to action were Michelle and Andy Barclay, who used their proceeds from the sale of the Springhouse Farm to create the Barton Child Law and Policy Clinic at Emory Law School.

The Family

In the mid-1900's, the Springhouse Farm was a hub of activity in rural Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Farmers Lewis and Sara Barton were deeply faithful Quakers who demonstrated their commitment to social justice on a daily basis. They were generous with their time and resources and were beloved and respected for their philanthropy and community involvement.

Lewis and Sara's grandson is Andy Barclay, a statistician, engineer, retired IT professional, and full-time volunteer child advocate, who lives in Atlanta, Georgia. Andy and his wife, Michelle Barclay, Director of the Supreme Court of Georgia Committee on Justice for Children, donated their share of the proceeds from the Barton family farm--$1 million--to continue the Barton family legacy of philanthropy by helping abused children in Georgia.

Michelle and Andy both worked in the medical field before Michelle attended Emory Law School, became involved in child advocacy work, and drew Andy into her efforts to improve outcomes for maltreated children. After graduating from Emory Law in 1996, Michelle decided that working inside government would be the best avenue for her to effect systemic changes, and she accepted the job as director of Georgia's Court Improvement Project, now known as the Supreme Court of Georgia Committee on Justice for Children. After retiring from the IT industry, Andy focused most of his efforts on child-serving nonprofits that work with government agencies and has since been appointed to several state agency boards. Both Michelle and Andy work closely with Emory Law and the Barton Center to carry out the Center's mission and vision.

The Funding

The Barclays created the L.W. Barton Foundation Fund, a donor-directed fund at the Community Foundation of Greater Atlanta, and worked with then-Senator Mary Margaret Oliver, Dean Woody Hunter, attorney Karen Worthington, and others to develop what is now the Barton Child Law and Policy Center at Emory Law School, named in honor of Andy's maternal grandparents, Lewis and Sara Barton.

The Barclay's financial and personal commitment to the Barton Center led to the generation of over five million additional dollars in the Center's first ten years. The additional funds have come from Emory Law School, Emory University, foundations, individual donors, and revenue-generating activities.

The Plan

The Barclays wanted to make a lasting contribution to Georgia's child welfare system and believed the best return on their investment would be to invest in people. One way to change systems affecting children is to infuse the systems with large numbers of highly motivated, specially trained people whose first professional priority is improving the lives of children. An academic institution is the perfect place for investing in people, so the Barclays chose to enter into a partnership with Emory Law School.

Emory Law was a natural partner because of Dean Hunter's commitment to the summer child advocacy program started by Jan Pratt and Anita Mann in 1992 and the complementary resources of the university including the Schools of Medicine, Public Health, and Nursing. Emory, however, lacked one important component of a multi-disciplinary children's law center: a school of social work. This need was filled through a partnership with the Georgia State School of Social Work that allowed the Barton Center to serve as a field education site for masters of social work students.

Dean Hunter supported expansion of the summer child advocacy program into a full-fledged interdisciplinary center with students and faculty from across the university. He generously provided office space and other resources to Karen Worthington in the fall and winter of 1999-2000 to develop a plan and proposal for the Barton Center. The proposal was a collaborative document developed with input from many juvenile justice and child welfare leaders in Georgia and across the country. Dean Hunter approved the proposal, and the Barton Center officially opened its doors on March 1, 2000.

The Vision

Terrell Peterson's death illustrated that Georgia's child welfare system not only had gaps but chasms where children got lost or died. The Barton Center was created to fill gaps: there is no other organization in Georgia that combines research, training, and advocacy efforts to improve systems that work with court-involved children. While the Barton Center is a resource center for the diverse practitioners working on behalf of neglected, abused, and court-involved children, it is foremost a center that is dedicated to improving the systems for the benefit of the children involved.

The Evolution

The work of the Barton Center has developed organically, with requests and suggestions from people in the field and input from faculty, students, and advisory committee members. The student opportunities, structure, and programs of the Center have expanded, contracted, and evolved in a similar manner.

In the first ten years, 20 faculty members, fellows, and staff attorneys served in part-time or full-time capacities with the Barton Center. Hundreds of students have participated in the Center's work. Laws, policies, and practices have improved, and court-involved children are better-served and have more positive outcomes than in the 1990s. Some specific areas of the Center's growth are highlighted in this section.

Juvenile Justice

Child welfare and juvenile justice systems have a close and porous relationship. Many children move between the child welfare and juvenile justice systems, the risk factors associated with child abuse and delinquency are similar, and the families involved with both systems are often the same. Five months after opening its doors, the Barton Center expanded its focus to the juvenile justice arena with the addition of the Southern Juvenile Defender Center, one of nine regional support centers affiliated with the National Juvenile Defender Center. In 2006, the Barton Center enhanced its juvenile justice work with the addition of the Juvenile Defender Clinic, which provides direct representation for child clients.

Multi-Disciplinary Approach

The Barton Center is committed to training the next generation of professionals in an interdisciplinary setting where, working together in teams, the students learn how different disciplines think, talk, analyze problems, and develop solutions. Understanding the ethical codes, motivations, and perspectives of all the players who work with court-involved children creates an environment for effective collaboration to achieve the singular goal of helping children.

Over the years, Barton Center faculty and fellows have included a child psychiatrist, an elected official, an epidemiologist, and a public health researcher. Since the faculty members have primarily been lawyers, the Barton Center has relied heavily on its advisory committee members and colleagues in the field to provide insights and instruction from other professions. Students have been from schools of theology, medicine, public health, social work, Emory College, and the Emory Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.


The Barclay's initial decision to invest in people has led to Barton Center fellows later serving in top leadership positions in Georgia, including the Child Advocate for Georgia and the Commissioner of the Department of Juvenile Justice. In addition to fellows sponsored by the Barton Fund, the Center has hosted two Equal Justice Works Fellows. The Barton Center has also supported two part-time public health fellows, one of whom held a joint appointment as a Barton Fellow and as an instructor at the Rollins School of Public Health. In 2010, the Robin Nash Fellowship Program was launched to replace the Barton Fellowship Program.

Community Partnerships

The Barton Center values collaboration and the involvement of those who are affected by a problem in developing and implementing the solution. Therefore, our work is usually done in collaboration with others. Sometimes the collaborations occur naturally because of shared passion and mutual goals. Other times the collaboration is a planned partnership, where each of the participants brings specific skills and resources to the project. The Barton Center's community partnerships include the Interfaith Children's Movement, Fostering Court Improvement, and JUSTGeorgia.

The Interfaith Children's Movement (ICM) is an independent nonprofit that was incubated at the Barton Center. It started in 2001 as the Interfaith Children's Movement of Metropolitan Atlanta, a completely volunteer-run organization committed to inspiring faith communities and people of faith to become vocal advocates for children. Barton Director Karen Worthington was a founding board member of ICM, which was created to fill a gap in child advocacy in Georgia: most of the people talking to legislators and policy makers were full-time employees of organizations or paid lobbyists. The community members who cared most personally about children were not directly communicating with decision-makers. More people and diverse voices were needed in the advocacy arena, and ICM was the avenue for including more community members in the work.

Staff support and funding was obtained by the Barton Center to launch ICM, and the Barton Center served as the fiscal agent for ICM for its first few years. ICM grew into an independent statewide organization that still works closely with the Barton Center but has no formal or financial ties to it.

Fostering Court Improvement, a national initiative, and JUSTGeorgia, a statewide initiative, are two additional examples of the Barton Center joining with other organizations to improve the lives of children. In both those initiatives, partners were chosen according to the complementary skills of the organizations, and the partnerships were designed to draw on the strengths of the partner organizations.

The Future

In 2010, Founding Director Karen Worthington left the Center, passing the torch to current Director Melissa Carter, who has been an active participant in the work of the Center throughout her career. Carter served as Georgia's Child Advocate before Dean Partlett appointed her as Director of the Barton Center. Many positive changes were achieved for children in the first decade of the Barton Center's existence, but there is much work still to be done. The need for the Barton Center's leadership, expertise, and students and fellows is as great as ever, and the Barton Center remains committed to improving the lives of Georgia's most vulnerable children.

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