Child advocates win fight to open juvenile courts

ATLANTA -- They called them martini-sipping, tennis-playing, ladies who lunch. That's despite the fact that none of it was true.

What they were was a group of eight volunteers who were such a thorn in the side of the juvenile court system after they were fired from being volunteers.

They had a crazy idea: that the public should know what's actually going on in juvenile court.

What's even crazier? They won.

"Actually I cried," said Virginia Wood, one of the former court-appointed special advocates who made up the group. "It was wonderful. It was wonderful. It was like somebody had heard what we were trying to say."

Up until 2010, the juvenile courts in Georgia were closed to the general public. What happened there was a secret. Sometimes, it was a shame.

"I think everyone of us thought DFCS took care of these kids," Wood said."We were unaware of what was going on, and as we got more and more involved and saw the system ... and saw how the system was failing ... it became really real."

So real that the group wanted others to see what they saw as child advocates. They createdBetterCourtsForKids.orgAnd in addition to their paying jobs, they spent thousands of hours and drove thousands of miles to personally lobby lawmakers to open the juvenile court for cases involving abused kids.

"What I'd like to see is as many people who can get in to visit their juvenile court," said Alice McQuade, an attorney and another member of the group. "To see what's going on in their neighborhood; see what's happening to the children in their neighborhood; see how the judges are performing."

And that was important, they say, because some of the judges were putting children in danger -- kids like little Adrianna Swain.
Back in 2008, a judge sent her back home from foster care on the advice of DFCS and against the advice of everyone else. Her parents beat her so badly, she was read the last rites, but miraculously survived.

Ann Pratt remembers how the case touched the public.

"When you see a little child like Adrianna with her little head shaved on one side where she'd been beaten, and you see her staggering because she can't walk straight, that makes you cry if you care anything about children," Pratt said.

It turned out that lawmakers cared as well. The very next year theyoverwhelmingly passed SB-207 to open the juvenile court in cases of deprivation.

"Everybody wants families to stay together," says Julie Bolen, who was also with the group from the beginning. "But you can't just send a kid home and hope that the problem is going to magically correct itself. You need to put in resources for the family, and then you need to monitor them, because there are some families that you can pour untold resources and nothing's going to change."

*Governor Deal spends millions and adds workers tostrengthen DFCS
*2 DFCS fired after child abuse cases result in children dying
*Emani's Grandmother says no one would help her
*Prayer vigil for Emani Moss
*Exclusive Interview: DFCS Director Dr. Sharon Hill
*Judge Glenda Hatchett: 'The system is broken'
*Parents of Emani Moss appear in court
*Resources for helping children
*Accountability: When calling DFCS isn't enough
*Experts: DFCS report showed Emani Moss was in danger
*DFCS summary of the life and death of Emani Moss
*10 year old girl burned and stuffed in trash can, parents charged
*Governor Deal responds to death of10-year-old Emani Moss
*State Rep. calls for changes to child laws, DFCS following 10-year-old's death
*12-year-old boy killed after physical abuse for weeks, months or longer
*Former DFCS worker speaks out following children's deaths
*Former DFCS manager says agency pushing workers too hard
*Children's advocate: "DFCS is broken"
*Attorney says DFCS needs change from top down
*More storiesof children in trouble under DFCS monitoring


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