The paragraph highlighted in bold is very scary, in that DFCS is allowed to use heresay in the hearing. This is what causes most of the parents problems. The fact that the hersay is allowed as fact in a hearing. Also it plainly states that all the lawyers, judges etc are in bed together to see that the parent is the guilty party. Just another piece of proof that the State is buying and selling our children illegally.
Barton Clinic Summer 2008 Intern Report
Intern: Natalece Washington
Assignment: Jackson County Juvenile Court Attorney GAL Division
School: University of Georgia School of Law
As an intern in the Juvenile Court of Banks, Barrow, and Jackson Counties I worked with a Child Advocate Attorney who is appointed by the court pursuant to statute O.C.G.A. §15-11-6 (b) that requires that all children in Juvenile Court be represented by council and § 15-11-9 (b) that requires a Guardian ad litem to be appointed in order to protect the interest of the children whose interests may be in conflict with their parents’ interests. The Judge presiding over the Piedmont Judicial Circuit has enacted a standing order that requires a staff attorney who is assigned to the court’s Child Advocate Division to serve as an attorney- Guardian ad litem in all deprivation actions of the Juvenile Courts of Banks, Barrow, and Jackson Counties. At the start of the internship I identified the main goals of the Child Advocate Attorney. First, we investigate the child’s or sibling group’s situation. Next, we advocate in court hearings for what we have found to be in the best interest of the child. Finally, we monitor the child’s ongoing best interest for as long as they remain in care or as long as they are in a placement that must be reviewed by the court periodically.
Generally, in our office the child advocate attorneys follows the Best Interest model. This means that it is our strategic goal to always secure outcomes that are in the child’s best interest. During my internship, I only experienced one instance of conflicting roles. A teenager’s desires were in conflict with the Child Advocate Attorney’s best interest recommendation. Because of this conflict another attorney was appointed to follow the client-directed model of representation and represent the child’s wishes. I learned that this happens rarely and that this situation was unique because of the child’s age and competence.
Early into the summer I learned the models of representation to achieve the goals of the child advocate. However, there were many practical aspects of the task of child representation that could only be gained from work in the field. Efficiency, camaraderie among professionals in the Juvenile Court, and lawyering skill and savvy to work with an ever-changing group of babies, toddlers, pre-teens, and teenagers are the essential practical components of child advocacy.
The Juvenile Court’s efficiency is a top priority in the Piedmont Judicial Circuit. One method the judge uses to ensure efficiency is the Pre-Trial Conference. This is a time for all parties to come together to decide on the particulars of an Adjudicatory hearing. Another effort to maintain court efficiency is timely appointment of council. Parents who are a part of deprivation actions have the legal right to an attorney. If they are without the state requisite income to hire an attorney, the Public Defender’s office will have one appointed for them. In the Piedmont Judicial Circuit, parents often decide that they can use an attorney’s services only after the original shelter care proceeding. Unbeknownst to a pro se parent, the shelter care hearing allows hearsay and can be damaging because the judge hears this information when he is first introduced to the case. I have learned that skilled parent attorneys, when appointed before the shelter care hearing, often consent to waive the shelter care hearing- stipulating deprivation- and make plans to advocate for their client in the Adjudicatory hearing that is governed by the rules of evidence. Often after experiencing the damaging effects of a shelter care without legal representation, parents opt to have council in subsequent proceedings. This creates backlog and the judge will have to continue any case scheduled prior to appointment of council. In this circuit, the judge never neglects to tell the parents of their right to an attorney early, at the start of a shelter care hearing. Unfortunately, despite his good effort, their change of heart is often unavoidable.
Surprisingly, there is high level of camaraderie among the attorneys, service providers, DFCS, DJJ, and placement representatives in our deprivation proceedings. The child advocates are frequently in friendly negotiations with parent’s attorneys and the SAAG to achieve the best interest outcome. Although all attorneys involved have a distinct agenda, there is no embittered power struggle among them. Perhaps it is simply professional courtesy. Whatever the cause, I believe it is their relationships and discussion that clarify the issues of a case and each party’s desired outcome. I think this is the best environment for a child client who is often present in the courtroom during proceedings that directly effect his or her welfare. This camaraderie may not exist in a metropolitan environment. I have heard that there is more hostility between parties. I believe this may be do to the greater number of players involved. In this circuit, we deal with the same parent’s attorneys, private attorneys, SAAGs, and Child Advocates. There are not any surprises. We know who and what to expect and they are all familiar with the culture of the court. This probably differs from more populated counties.
Finally, a high level of technique and savvy is required to deal with child clients. Getting documented information from agencies, placements, schools, and doctors is relatively easy since we are equipped with a court order that requires that all reasonable requests be granted. Any requests found to be unreasonable must be challenged in writing before the court. What seems to be more difficult is getting information from a child. Child advocates interview children frequently. As an intern testing my interview skills I found myself often quite uncomfortable. I would often stutter and choose my words all too carefully. This only confused the child and discredited me as a professional. Children seemed to respond best when the interviewer is comfortable. So as the summer progressed I felt more at ease talking to kids about their home situations and desires and made more progress in that manner. When I watch my supervisor interview children it is as if she is working from a checklist of the perfect questions to ask. She does this all while playing with the child or casually speaking to a teenager, never note taking. Her casual nature seems to help the interviewee put their guard down just long enough for her to uncover the information that she needs. My supervisor assures me that interviewing skills are developed with time and practice.
I have notably learned this summer that the Attorney Child Advocates are expected to be much more than attorneys. They are social workers, counselors, therapists, pharmacology students, and friends to their clients. They perform each of these roles as they advocate for their clients best interest. Throughout the internship we’d visit clients’ homes, schools, relatives, and service providers and conduct social worker-like investigations. Child Advocates often act as a check on DFCS personnel. I appreciate the work of the Child Advocate for this reason. The leg work and time put into investigation are our own “reasonable efforts” to ensure the child’s best interest are being met. If you are advocating for a child to go live in their grandmother’s home and you have never met grandmother, visited her home, or spoken with her to learn of her consent to this plan, then you are advocating blindly.
Child advocates often are skilled in identifying a need for counseling or specialized treatment. They see problems and often know when a child is at their breaking point needing someone to talk to or therapy to keep them from harming themselves or others. As lay pharmacology students, child advocates often know just what a child’s diagnoses are just by viewing their list of prescribed medications. I have also learned that if parents are on certain mood regulating drugs, then children are potentially suffering from the same mental health issues. In what might be considered their most important role, child advocates are the familiar friendly face that a child can see consistently in and out of court. In our court, children sit by their attorney when present. Unless it is a shelter care hearing, they have already talked to their attorney and had an opportunity to develop a relationship with someone not involved with DFCS who represents them. Unfortunately, a child’s tears dampen many court proceedings. The child’s attorney, not only represents them, but also helps them through this period of fear or frustration. Because this attorney wears so many hats the job is a little overwhelming. However, looking forward to the end result makes the multi-tasking worthwhile.
Because of the court’s expectation that every child be effectively served and the heavy case loads that come along with that expectation there is a need to check that everyone’s job is being completed adequately. There are means to review cases periodically, outside the setting of a hearing to ensure that kids are having all of their needs met. The Citizens Panel Reviews provide a way to review cases that hadn’t been to court for a while. It makes the child advocate review the file and have a chance to meet with and discuss issues with other agencies. The community gets to participate to observe their tax dollars at work or to identify when some child is getting short changed.