Barton Child Law and Policy Center

Child Welfare

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 believes 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.

The Georgia Child Welfare Collaboratory

The Georgia Child Welfare Collaboratory is a purpose-driven, exploratory process designed to strengthen strategic partnerships, develop “upstream” strategies to prevent unnecessary family separation, and inform policy with research, evidence, and the expertise of leaders in Georgia’s child welfare system.

Launched in 2022 with support from the Joseph B. Whitehead Child Well-Being Fund, the Collaboratory is designed to be a co-creative stakeholder engagement process for solving complex problems. It is driven by an intention to support experimenting across sectors and systems to prevent the unnecessary placement of children in foster care. The Collaboratory is a learning journey on which all involved can work to deepen relationships among existing stakeholders, create relationships with new partners, improve communication, and shift principles to strategic planning – to identify and define problems jointly, co-develop strategies, and align contributions. Through the Collaboratory, the Barton Center hopes to create a meaningful and ongoing collaborative approach for tackling some of the deeply rooted challenges of the child welfare system in order to improve outcomes for the children and families of Georgia.

Institutional Reform Litigation

Over the past 50 years impact litigation has become an increasingly common strategy to comprehensively reform state child welfare systems. Many jurisdictions operate under one or more consent decrees, the average length of which is about 17 years with costs reaching or surpassing $15 million over the lifetime of a single agreement. Proponents celebrate impact litigation for its ability to bring about larger policy shifts and promote lasting systemic change through increased accountability, new or greater resource investments, and improved practice. But the experience of state defendants also highlights the tremendous expense of institutional reform litigation. With funding support from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation and Casey Family Programs, the Barton Center is leading research to assess the impact of institutional reform litigation as a tool for improving the child welfare system and the outcomes experienced by children, youth, and families and providing technical assistance to researchers, litigants, policymakers, and advocates.

Preventive Legal Advocacy

Preventive legal advocacy aims to protect children and families by promoting family stability, strengthening parent-child relationships, and preventing formal intervention by child protection agencies. Effective preventive legal advocacy requires collaboration with community organizations, policymakers, and stakeholders to address systemic issues like poverty, inadequate housing, and lack of access to healthcare services. By addressing upstream civil legal issues, preventive legal advocacy programs keep families together, promote social determinants of health, and reduce unnecessary reports to the child protection hotline. These programs provide interdisciplinary, holistic legal representation, educating parents about their rights and responsibilities, and ensuring access to financial supports and social services. By focusing on prevention, these programs support families in crisis and ensure safe and nurturing environments to reduce the need for intrusive interventions by the child protection system.

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