The Georgia House of Representatives has nixed the absorption of the Family Connection Partnership and its funding into the Governor’s Office of Children and Families (GOCF), an agency created in 2008 by then-Governor Sonny Perdue. The Senate has not yet voted on the appropriations. Officials of the GOFC had said folding the Partnership into their agency would save the state money and simplify access to information and services. Opponents of the move countered that consolidating the entities could undermine the Partnership’s commitment to community-based decision-making, jeopardize its private funding, and increase the size of state government. The House even included notes emphasizing its decision to quash the proposed transfer of the Partnership, a 20-year-old statewide public-private collaboration with an $8 million budget.
Thompson High School student Shakira Hudson was 15 when she was killed. Audrey Atkinson of Covington was 19. Jasmine Harris of Atlanta was 17 and pregnant. All three died in 2010. Boyfriends or ex-boyfriends were charged with their murders. The girls’ deaths were among 130 recorded by the Georgia Commission on Family Violence and the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence in the 2010 Georgia Domestic Violence Fatality Report, the largest number of such homicides since the first annual report in 2003.
The first overhaul of Georgia’s juvenile code in 40 years will be at least another year in the making. The rewritten code — Senate Bill 127 — failed to come up for a vote by the deadline to move it on to the House this year. But because the General Assembly works in two-year sessions, the bill is not dead and may be taken up next year without being reintroduced or reassigned to a committee. After its first reading in the Senate this year, the bill, also known as the “Children’s code,” was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. Bill Hamrick (R-Carrollton), who is also the bill’s sponsor. “We had a hearing on the bill and discovered that some stakeholders had issues with the bill,” said committee aide Emily Fisher, “so Senator Hamrick asked those stakeholders to meet outside of the committee and work out some sort of compromise. The committee was set to hear the bill again, but we ran out of time.”
Hamrick “hopes to have worked out the stakeholders’ concerns over the break this summer and fall in order to reach a version of the bill that may be passed and considered in the House,” Fisher said.
Some unlikely Atlanta women are spending hours on the Internet looking for child prostitutes, but not for personal gratification. They’re volunteers who are monitoring websites that advertise children under categories such as “escorts” as part of a new front in the war against sexual trafficking. “We have found every quarter an exponential increase in the number of girls being exploited,” said Deborah Richardson, executive vice president of the National Center for Civil & Human Rights. “One reason is the internet. Anyone can sit at home and order a young girl for sex as easily as ordering a pizza.” And just as a customer can specify pizza toppings, children can be ordered online by skin color, hair color and age, she said.
Buried in the Governor’s budget is a plan that is stirring up conflict among children’s advocates in Georgia, pitting supporters of two child welfare agencies against each other. The plan would fold the Georgia Family Connection Partnership, a 20-year old statewide public-private collaboration, and its budget of nearly $8 Million into the Governor’s Office for Children and Families (GOCF) effective July 1, 2011. Currently the Partnership is attached to the Department of Human Services. Officials of the GOCF say the change would save the state money and simplify access to information and services. Opponents of the move counter that it would undermine the Partnership’s commitment to community-based decision-making, jeopardize its private funding, and increase the size of state government.
The Georgia Commission on Family Violence set up a governance committee Friday in the midst of ongoing questions about where in state government the agency belongs. In its 2010 session, the state legislature attached the 37-member commission’s budget to the Administrative Office of the Courts within the judicial branch, and there is strong support for having it remain there. But there are also those—reportedly including Gov. Sonny Perdue—who would like to see it come under the Governor’s Office for Children and Families in the executive branch. The possibility of moving the agency raises questions about its future, as JJIE.org reported Thursday. At the commission’s quarterly meeting, chairwoman Peggy Walker, a Douglas County juvenile court judge, asked members to volunteer for the new governance committee which will study the benefits and drawbacks to moving the agency, and look at how other states handle similar agencies. The committee will be headed by Fulton County Superior Court Judge Shawn LaGrua and will include Pardons and Paroles board member James Donald, Assistant Attorney General Kathryn Fox, majority whip Rep. Edward Lindsey (R-Atlanta), Henry County Solicitor General Charles Spanos and Robert Thornton, criminal services director of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, which includes representatives of several other agencies and councils.
The Georgia Commission on Family Violence has bounced among state agencies for the last 18 years – from Human Resources to the Administrative Office of the Courts to Corrections and back to the Courts. Now there are new questions about its future.
In the most recent change, the General Assembly voted late in the 2010 session to move the agency’s $428,000 budget from the Department of Corrections in the executive branch to the Administrative Office of the Courts in the judicial branch—but failed to amend the law to actually move the agency because time ran out. Corrections transferred management to the Courts by agreement. Now there’s discussion about moving the Commission again, this time to the Governor’s Office for Children and Families, an agency created by outgoing Governor Sonny Perdue two years ago. Supporters say services should be combined under one umbrella.
LaGrange—Judge Michael Key is a hometown boy, a son of the cotton mill village where he played rhythm guitar in a rock-and-roll band on Saturday nights and went to a Southern Baptist Church on Sundays. He was headed off to Emory University’s law school before he ever met a lawyer. “Back then people just didn’t go from the mill village to being a lawyer,” he says. For 31 years, Key (LaGrange High School, class of ’68) has been back home practicing law. For 21 of those years, he’s also been a part-time juvenile court judge.
Parents are not always the best advocates for children charged with crimes. In fact, parents may be uninvolved, absent, or even hostile, experts told state senators as they discussed proposed changes to Georgia’s juvenile code. Some of those experts were young people who’ve been through the juvenile justice system. They are identified by first names only:
Giovan, 20, was only 11 months old when he entered foster care. By 12, he was also in the juvenile justice system, declared unruly for cursing at foster parents he says repeatedly told him he was worth nothing.
Anyone passing by room 450 at Georgia’s capitol on Monday probably thought lawmakers were talking about facial parts. The Senate Judiciary Committee was actually discussing CHINS—the acronym for Children in Need of Services—an important concept in the rewrite of the state’s juvenile code. In the proposed code, expected to be introduced when the legislature convenes in 2011, the term would replace language in the current code about “status offenders.” The change is more than semantic. Status offenses are acts that would not be crimes for adults, such as truancy or running away from home. Children who commit such offenses in Georgia can be classified as “unruly” or “ungovernable,” and under the current code can be detained “for days, weeks or even months in secure detention facilities,” according to a report prepared for the Senate committee by the Barton Child Law and Policy Clinic at Emory University School of Law.