Report: DeKalb County Meeting Requirements to Improve Legal Representation of Foster Children

ATLANTA, GA — The settlement of a landmark class-action lawsuit seeking reform of the Atlanta child welfare system on behalf of thousands of children in its custody has produced vast improvements in the quality of legal representation foster children in DeKalb County’s receive in Juvenile Court, according to a new report released today by an independent monitor in the case.

According to the report, DeKalb County has met all of the requirements of the court order mandating improvements in the DeKalb County Child Advocacy Center, which provides legal services to the approximately 1,000 DeKalb County children in the custody of the child welfare system. The report highlights dramatic reductions in the number of cases handled by each child advocate attorney and improvements in the quality of legal representation they provide children in the county’s juvenile courts.

The court- ordered reforms are required by the 2006 settlement by DeKalb County of a part of the federal class action known as Kenny A. v. Perdue, brought by the national advocacy group Children’s Rights in 2002. The same case also includes a settlement with State officials requiring comprehensive reform of the Georgia Division of Family and Children’s Services (DFCS). The settlement with DeKalb County was reached after a federal court ruled in an unprecedented 2005 decision that children have a constitutional right to zealous and effective legal advocacy in the juvenile courts at every stage of their experience in state custody.

“There is no question that the Kenny A. lawsuit and the resulting court oversight have produced dramatic improvements for children in DeKalb County’s juvenile court system,” said Ira Lustbader, associate director of Children’s Rights. “Just a few years ago, DeKalb County’s child advocates were so overburdened that the kids they represented were lucky if they met their attorneys even once. This is major progress — these kids need their own lawyer to light their way, especially in a child welfare system with severe problems such as Georgia DFCS.

The monitoring report, required by the settlement and covering the period September 15, 2007, to March 15, 2008, found that DeKalb County has:

Amid the praise for DeKalb County’s progress, the report highlights several serious and ongoing problems in Georgia’s Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) that threaten to undermine effective legal representation of foster children, including:

“It is unfortunate that the Georgia Department of Family and Children Services’ failures are still casting shadows on the impressive progress that DeKalb County has made,” Lustbader said. “The biggest obstacle to effective legal representation for abused and neglected children should not be the state’s own child welfare system.”

Chris Iseli or Brooks Halliday // 212.683.2210