The Barton Center’s child welfare work focuses on promoting and protecting the legal rights and interests of children involved with the juvenile court, child welfare and juvenile justice systems, inspiring excellence among professionals, and preparing emerging practitioners for successful and rewarding careers in child advocacy. The scope of our child welfare work is systemic changes that will benefit children who are involved with the child welfare or juvenile court systems or are likely to become involved because they are victims of abuse or neglect.
The Barton Center belives that systems and people who work on child welfare matters should be accountable to each other, the public, and most importantly to children. We are involved in several initiatives designed to increase accountability in our child welfare system.
Children involved with the child welfare system have certain rights related to their educational needs. The Barton Center’s advocacy for the educational needs of court-involved children includes representing youth in foster care who have educational needs, educating lawyers and other professionals about the educational rights of youth in foster care, advocating for changes to Georgia’s laws, and promoting educational stability for youth in foster care.
The Official Code of Georgia Section 19-7-5, which defines child abuse that must be reported by mandated reporters, specifically includes sexual abuse and sexual exploitation, including prostitution, of any person under the age of 18. These victims are entitled to protection and services, and the Barton Center advocates for appropriate responses to these children's needs and for the prosecution of adult offenders.
Kenny A. versus Perdue is a class action lawsuit filed in 2002 by Children’s Rights, Inc. on behalf of children in Fulton and DeKalb Counties who are alleged or adjudicated deprived or who have an open Division of Family and Children Services case. The lawsuit has two main components. One consists of claims against state defendants for operating an unsafe foster care system and asks that Georgia’s child welfare system be reformed to provide proper care, protection, treatment, and services to children in foster care as required by law. The second consists of claims against Fulton and DeKalb Counties for providing ineffective and inadequate legal representation to children in the class. The claims against the state defendants were settled through a consent decree in 2005, and Georgia is still working to meet the requirements of that consent decree. The claims against Fulton County were settled in a consent decree in 2006; Fulton County met all requirements of the consent decree in 2011 and was released from court oversight. The claims against DeKalb County were settled in a consent decree in 2006; DeKalb County met all requirements of the consent decree in 2008 and was released from court oversight.
Because of the significance of this case, the Barton Center posts relevant developments in the case on its web site and occasionally highlights developments in communications to the local and national child advocacy community.
Youth in foster care have greater mental health needs than most other youth populations. They are at extremely high risk for emotional and behavioral disturbances, arising from the initial trauma of maltreatment or existing mental illness, compounded by the disruption of their families, loss of support systems, and separation from everything they know. Studies show that 60-85% of children being served by the child welfare system meet criteria for a DSM-IV psychiatric diagnosis.
The Barton Center works to ensure that youth who are involved with the child welfare and juvenile court systems receive timely, appropriate, individualized mental health services, including preventive services when indicated, and all services to which they are entitled by law and policy.
Youth in foster care have much higher rates of pregnancy and birth than young people who have not been in foster care. Studies have found that almost half of males and females who have been in foster care have conceived a child before age 20. Teenage girls who have been in foster care are more likely than other teens to give birth and are more likely to have a subsequent pregnancy than other teens. Babies born to teens in foster care are at high risk for many negative outcomes, including placement in foster care. The Barton Center works with the Department of Human Resources Division of Family and Children Services and community partners to protect the health rights of youth in foster care and to implement research-based practices that optimize outcomes for young parents in foster care and their children.
Children in Georgia have a right to counsel “at all stages of any proceeding alleging delinquency, unruliness, incorrigibility, or deprivation….” (Georgia Code 15-11-6(b)). Indigent parents also have a right to counsel in deprivation proceedings. The Barton Center works to enforce these rights and to provide lawyers representing clients in juvenile court with the skills and knowledge they need to provide specialized, zealous advocacy. When all parties in deprivation proceedings are represented by specially trained lawyers who have appropriate resources, support, and compensation, children and families have better outcomes.