The Barton Center’s juvenile justice work includes systemic reform efforts and direct representation at the trial court and appellate levels. The systemic work focuses on law, policy, and practice changes to improve the juvenile court process, the juvenile justice system, and outcomes for youth involved with these systems. The direct representation work connects student lawyers with live clients to provide specialized holistic legal representation in juvenile court and school proceedings.
The Barton Center’s policy work is informed by practice, and our student lawyers’ work in the community is shaped by our policy work. Improving children’s lives and systems that serve children requires an understanding of both the influences and issues impacting individual clients in their daily lives and the influences and issues impacting policy makers, elected officials, judges, and others who develop and implement high level policies.
In the Juvenile Defender Clinic, third-year law students serve as lawyers for youth accused of committing delinquent and status offenses. Students provide holistic legal representation in DeKalb County Juvenile Court and also provide legal advocacy in the areas of school discipline, special education, mental health, and public benefits, when such advocacy is derivative of a client’s juvenile court case.
In the Appeal for Youth Clinic, students represent youth in foster care in school discipline hearings and provide post-conviction representation to youth in juvenile detention facilities or prison who are currently or were formerly in foster care.
These client representation clinics evolved from the direct representation component of an Equal Justice Works Fellowship project that focused on youth involved in juvenile court delinquency proceedings who also had mental health needs. From 2003-2005, students represented individual clients with mental health needs in Bartow County Juvenile Court under the supervision of Equal Justice Works Fellow Amy Howell. The Southern Juvenile Defender Center, which was housed at the Barton Center, hosted the Fellowship project.
When Barton Center clients are involved in related school discipline and special education proceedings, the student lawyers represent their clients at the school proceedings. The Barton Center also works on systemic issues related to the educational needs of court-involved youth, including the school-to-prison pipeline.
Through the Know Your Rights initiative, Emory Law students teach Atlanta youth about their rights during encounters with law enforcement or during involvement in the juvenile justice system.
Youth involved with the juvenile justice system are at high risk for emotional and behavioral disturbances as well as co-occurring substance abuse disorders. Studies show that 60-80% of youth who are involved with the juvenile justice system meet criteria for a DSM-IV psychiatric diagnosis, and at least 20% have a serious mental health disorder that substantially interferes with their functioning.
The Barton Center works to ensure that youth who are involved with the juvenile justice 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.
Runaway and Homeless Youth
A child who runs away from home can be charged with a status offense in juvenile court if there is not just cause for the child to leave home. Many children who leave their homes need services and assistance, and some have been forced out of their homes by parents unwilling to care for them. These young people are likely to become involved with the courts as deprived, unruly, or delinquent children. The Barton Center’s work on behalf of these youth has included efforts to keep these young people out of the court system by making it easier for them to access needed services and return home or find an alternative appropriate living arrangement.