New codes create better support for at-risk youth
by Jessica Hall
August 03, 2013 11:47 PM | 2612 views | 0 0 comments | 18 18 recommendations | email to a friend | print
If it takes a village to raise a child, then what does it take to raise a village of children? The revised Juvenile Code has Cherokee County searching for the answer, and they are looking toward the community for help.

The new Juvenile Code goes into effect Jan. 1, 2014. Some significant changes in the code include: foster care management and procedure (children removed from homes due to abuse or neglect); and the creation of a new designation of at-risk youth, Children in Need of Services.

All children in foster care will now have a “voice” in the proceedings and a right to appointed counsel.

Department of Family and Children Services will also be required to move swiftly on cases and comply with additional protocols to ensure safe and permanent homes for children.

This change requires the court to conduct more extensive hearings to achieve the goal of a safe and permanent home, preferably with the parents.

The CHIN designation provides a new treatment model for non-violent and “status” offenders. “Status offenders” include runaways, ungovernable and drug and alcohol related offenses. Under the new code, this class of children will have right to appointed counsel and mental health treatment.

The new code also restricts the ability to incarcerate these children and requires courts to develop community-based services as an alternative to incarceration.

As Cherokee County Juvenile Court Judge John Sumner explains, “The code creates a new and significant responsibility on local government to provide additional financial resources, but also the obligation of the management of community-based programs.”

Which is why now is an excellent opportunity for community members to become aware and involved. Step up and support the efforts of Court Appointed Special Advocates and DFCS, who are in desperate need of foster homes and volunteers. In reaching out to CASA and DFCS, members can learn of many ways they can assist.

“Our community’s awareness of the foster care system should be heightened by these new changes as well as the support of for our Board of Commissioners as they meet these new legal obligations,” said Judge Sumner.

Certain societal factors such as poverty, substance abuse and unemployment play a huge role in necessitating judicial intervention. Heightened awareness of these factors is also important, as a lot of these can be addressed through community support and outreach.

Substance abuse among the youth is on the rise. Substance abuse by parents is also a consistent factor in a majority of the foster home cases.

Cherokee County, unfortunately, does not currently have the financial or treatment resources needed to meet this rise. Awareness will help facilitate funding and support from the community.

Poverty and unemployment leave many families without adequate child care or resources to provide for their children’s basic, and not to mention, health care needs.

The unemployment rate and job loss has forced many parents to work long hours, in which their adolescent children are left home alone, with no supervision or time for adequate parenting. Families lacking financial resources cannot afford the cost of extra-curricular activities for their children.

When a child’s basic needs cannot be met, DFCS becomes involved, increasing the number of children in care. When teens are not adequately supervised or equally busy, they get into trouble.

Historically, Cherokee County has been known for their positive impact on child advocacy. The courts, local attorneys, CASA, the district attorney’s office and DFCS have all been recipients of numerous awards for their efforts.

Just recently, Cherokee County Juvenile Court was awarded the maximum grant provided by the Legislature to implement the community-based programs under the new code. The courts, Board of Commissioners, DFCS, prosecuting counsels and mental health providers all worked together in the application process to develop and present a system of care addressing the needs of Cherokee’s youth to the Governor’s Office.

This effort is a prime example of a unified community. Cherokee County is tight-knit and family-centered. We have one of the best public school systems in Georgia, for academics and athletics alike.

Many of our member-driven service efforts are child and elderly focused. We help those in need, rescue strays, deliver meals, and donate clothes and school supplies.

Above all, our community is involved: we attend board and city council meetings; meet our politicians before we vote; blog and submit opinions on local issues.

Awareness of these changes is key to community involvement. Bring the issue up at your Bible study group, service league meeting or happy-hour conversation. Think of ways your church, recreational sports league or business can help. Donate your used items and encourage other members of the community to do so as well.

Jessica Hall is a solo practitioner at The Law Office of Jessica Hall, P.C., which focuses primarily on juvenile advocacy and criminal defense. Hall is married with a 3-year-old son. When Hall is not working, she is riding her horse, Corwin.

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