AWER President Rose Caplan thanked all present and welcomed everyone to AWER’s first meeting of RY2024. Rose presented Judge Wenona C. Belton of the Fulton County Juvenile Court as our speaker.
Judge Belton presented the Mission of her court: First, to protect children and the community in matters brought before the court and to restore families, and second, and to create opportunities for the community, partners, and stakeholders to actively engage in this [the Court’s] Mission. She emphasized the importance of unifying the family including verifying that both the child and her/his parent want to be together. Poverty erects major barriers because it leads to homelessness which, if a possibility, carries be a setback, so it to be avoided – but no easy task. Judge Belton noted that reaching good outcomes requires (a) good legal defense support for the child, (b) the family’s likelihood for being able to fulfill its commitments, intervention and representations for change by the child’s lawyer, and (c) participation by Court Appointed Special Advocates – CASA.
CASA is volunteer support system in all (but one) of the 159 Georgia counties supporting the courts in making the best decision for the child. In addition, Belton mentioned guardian ad litem who are individuals assisting the court further in assuring a good decisions are arrived at. She noted the importance of the child’s lawyer especially when the child does not have the verbal skills to express matters important to her/him. The court seeks forces and individuals to ensure a balanced views in creating the best outcome for all concerned. Judge Belton noted that hers is not a secret court. She certainly wants to assure that all considerations, including the mental health of the family is supported, and other issues such as housing, the possibilities of drug abuse and other situations are dealt with so that the court’s Mission is met. She says it is very important to avoid getting children “court connected” because such ‘designations’ could sabotage the child and the family for years in achieving the health and opportunities all seek. C J Stewart noted that as parents at both Westminster and Lovett Schools, he and Kelli were required to participate in 12 hours of training in how to be the best possible support for their children of their kids’ social and academic development. C J said the experiences were most beneficial, and that as a comparison, so-called have-not children unfortunately do not have such opportunities – and not available for the parents of kids in the court system. Judge Belton touched on another barrier facing children, such as being referred to as “living in a high crime area” stating how demoralizing such labels are and how heavy a burden it is for a child and a family to be identified in a negative way ... and skewing views of the public, further working against families and children. She also emphasized the significant support the court receives from major Atlanta institutions including the Barton Center and Emory University, the Morehouse School of Medicine and Georgia State University.