Fulton County Showing “Slow but Steady Progress” in Improving Legal Representation for Foster Children

ATLANTA, GA — An independent monitoring report released today shows that Fulton County is making “slow but steady” progress toward lowering the caseloads of attorneys representing foster children in the Juvenile Courts, and some improvements in the quality of representation on behalf of children in court hearings. However, data in the report shows that caseloads for the Child Advocate Attorneys (CAAs) remain far too high, delays and “continuances” in court proceedings are too common, files used in representing children routinely lack critical information, and someCAAs “lack a sense of urgency about the overarching needs of children for permanency and stability.”

The reforms are mandated by the 2006 settlement of part of the federal class action known as Kenny A., brought by national advocacy group Children’s Rights, which charged Fulton County with failing to provide adequate legal representation to the approximately 1,900 abused and neglected children in the custody of its child welfare system. The settlement followed a landmark ruling by the federal court that children in foster care have the legal right to effective, zealous legal representation throughout their experience with the Juvenile Court.

An independent report issued in December on DeKalb County, which entered into a separate settlement regarding children’s right to counsel in the Kenny A. lawsuit, showed that DeKalb County has surpassed the court-ordered benchmarks for reducing CAAs’ caseloads, and highlighted the significant progress DeKalb County has made in improving the overall quality of legal representation for children in foster care.

“DeKalb County has shown significant progress in implementing reforms in the legal representation of children, and Fulton County must now pick up the pace to provide foster children with the high-quality legal representation that the law guarantees them,” said Ira Lustbader, associate director of Children’s Rights. “This is a matter of particular urgency given the threats that Georgia foster children face to their well-being as a result of the widespread problems that the state’s Department of Family and Children’s Services continues to struggle with.”

Today’s Fulton County monitoring report was authored by retired North Carolina Juvenile Judge William Jones, who serves as the neutral “Accountability Agent” for Fulton County appointed by the Court in the Kenny A. case, and covers the period from July 1, 2007 to December 31, 2007. The report notes progress in several areas, including:

The new report also found several continued problems:

The children in the Fulton right to counsel case are represented by attorneys at Children’s Rights, the Atlanta law firm of Bondurant Mixson & Elmore L.L.C., and Erik S. Pitchal of the Suffolk University Law School in Boston, MA.

The full Fulton report and the federal class action settlement with Fulton County, as well the recent DeKalb County report and the settlement with DeKalb County, are available at www.childrensrights.org.

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