Rachelle Carnesale has been named as the next director of the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services. Governor-elect Nathan Deal’s transition team put out the word this week. Carnesale replaces Mark Washington, who left the post in September to become COO of FaithBridge Foster Care, Inc., a non-profit family services agency in Alpharetta. Carnesale is a lawyer with a background as both a prosecutor in child abuse cases, and an administrator of a child welfare agency. She is currently acting director of the Office of the Child Advocate. As deputy director of the OCA she ran the Child Fatality Investigation Program and developed the Child Abuse Training Academy. She has also been a prosecutor in DeKalb and Cherokee Counties.
Governor-Elect Nathan Deal has nominated Amy Howell as the next Commissioner of Georgia’s Department of Juvenile Justice. She will be the first woman to ever lead the agency. Howell is a DJJ veteran, an attorney who currently serves as Deputy Commissioner. She is slated to replace Commissioner Garland Hunt in mid-January. DJJ Board members who must approve the appointment, got the word this morning by email. Howell is a long-time child advocate. She was hired at DJJ by then-Commissioner Albert Murray, who promoted her within the agency. Amy Howell is an alumna of the Barton Clinic at Emory University, where she started in 2002 as an Equal Justice Works fellow, and became Managing Attorney of the Southern Juvenile Defender Center. According to the Barton website, Howell helped develop protocols for pre-trial mental health assessment, detention alternative policies, and public education on the juvenile justice system. She has written a manual called “Representing the Whole Child: A Juvenile Defender Training Manual.”
Howell is also past president of the Young Lawyer’s Division of the State Bar of Georgia. Before she became a lawyer, Howell taught elementary school and worked with special needs and gifted children in North Carolina. She got her BA from Connecticut College and her JD from Temple University.
There was no banner, no cake, and nobody waiting to cheer when he walked in the door. He simply entered the sparsely furnished, one-room apartment and placed his duffle bag on the bed. He rested his head on the mattress and felt pleasantly alone in the silence. The small studio apartment above the back garage of this neighborhood home was arranged by a volunteer who fundamentally changed his course in prison. In year four of thirteen, after spending over nine months in the hole, she came to him.
I sat in the Fulton County Juvenile Court audience on Saturday, November 20th , with my son and my husband, watching the joyful and moving ceremony of 23 families who were celebrating their adoptions on National Adoption Day . Afterward, I thought about my earlier conversation this past week remembering Fulton’s Terrell Peterson who suffered and died at the age of 5 when he should have been protected by our child welfare system and adopted by a loving family. These two events might seem like they are far apart but they are linked in my mind because November is also the 10 year anniversary of Terrell’s picture on the cover of Time Magazine with the title of “The Shame of Foster Care.” Terrell’s tragic case deeply affected many people. For my family, Terrell was the catalyst of working with Emory University School of Law to create the Barton Child Law and Policy Clinic , for others it was the call to become foster parents , CASAs or mentors.
Like many foster kids, he lost his property somewhere along the way. The blanket that smelled like mom, the sneakers that his brother gave him, the piece of pottery where he kept his coins. Although he begged, his caseworker couldn’t find the time to drive back to placement number four simply to get his childish things that were easily replaced at number five. And so, a petrified six-year-old bounced around the system less a few items he once cherished, items that connected him to where he wanted to be.
The boy grew older and moved around the state from group home to mental health facility. He developed a close relationship with other boys in one home and became involved in a gang. That involvement led to an armed robbery at fourteen, and that armed robbery resulted in a twenty-year prison sentence. I met him more than a year ago, well past the point of challenging his conviction and sentence. Since then, we have communicated frequently. The primary goal of my representation is to make sure the awful things that happened to him in the first five years of prison happen far less frequently or not at all in the remaining twelve.
Our visits generally involved him telling me about what has happened since we last met.
He patrolled the school halls, proudly donning his pull-over uniform vest. It was an honor given to top students in the fifth grade class, and he gladly accepted. Authoritarian, responsible, and trustworthy, he was a hall monitor.
In just three years, however, the hall monitor would be convicted of four gang-related murders and sentenced to a string of consecutive life sentences.
How? Like all youthful offenders, there was a transformation point. For this kid, it happened in the sixth grade, his life unraveling in the span of a single year.
For reasons unknown to the boy, he was forced out of his father’s stable home. From there, he and his older brother went to live with their mother and her boyfriend. Addicted to crack, mother and boyfriend spent their income supporting that habit, thrusting the family into extreme poverty. They moved from apartment to apartment, finally ending up in a home with no heat, no drywall on wood skeleton frames, and virtually no provisions.
The boys, twelve and thirteen, began hanging out with guys in their new neighborhood, working as low level street dealers for a local drug operation. The gig paid only fifty dollars a week, but the kids were also allowed to pick out a new outfit and new pair of shoes every Sunday. (A perk, he noted, that saved him from wearing the same clothes to school each day, an embarrassment he initially suffered after moving in with his mother.)
After living in the quasi-abandoned apartment for a few months, child protective services removed the boys, placing them in a group home nearby. Physically abused by group home staff, the boy and his brother ran. They returned to their mother’s neighborhood, and within a few weeks the boy was back in juvenile court on delinquency charges.
After serving nearly a year at a youth detention center, the boy again returned to the neighborhood. The thirteen-year-old arrived back home to find his brother associated with a gang that didn’t want the boy. Feeling betrayed, he turned to a rival gang and was taken under the wing of an older gangster.
Not long after that, the boy was ordered to do an armed robbery. Things did not go as planned, and people died. On the run, intra-gang issues flared, and more people died. He pled guilty and was given multiple life terms.
I met him ten years later and listened to his story. Unwilling to blame his current situation on any one childhood moment, he rejected the notion of a transformative event, instead insisting that it was all just life.
However, I could clearly hear an intonation of pride in his voice, and perhaps see a small smile on his tattooed face, when he told me that he was the fifth grade hall monitor. As if to say, while I refute the suggestion that one person or thing is responsible for my situation, I was in fact good once.
What is irrefutable is the fact that no one preserved that goodness. No one fought for this kid. No one that should have intervened intervened. No teacher, no social worker, no juvenile justice worker, no one did anything. Instead, we let this kid, who desperately wanted guidance, choose among the pool of mentors available to him.
Where was this kid’s hall monitor? ____________________
Steve Reba is an attorney at Emory Law School’s Barton Juvenile Defender Clinic where he directs an Equal Justice Works project called Appeal for Youth. The project, sponsored by Ford & Harrison LLP, provides holistic appellate representation to youthful offenders in Georgia’s juvenile and criminal justice systems. This blog follows the clients Appeal for Youth represents, hoping to present a genuine look into a system that is largely unknown or misunderstood by the public
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.
The thirteen-year-old sat at the defense table with his mother. The school principal, serving as prosecutor and the district’s sole witness, occupied the table to their left. Three administrators from other district schools stared down from their elevated bench. Sitting with the tribunal, indistinguishable in both presence and role, was the hearing officer. When the boy’s mother attempted to ask the principal a question, he would invoke his role as prosecutor. When the inquiry was directed at the hearing officer, he would explain that he was not a witness.
Of all my cases, his is far and away the most unjust, living in the fracture just out of the reach of Graham. I met him among the ragged novels in the prison library, a small table between us. I began the conversation as I begin every first conversation, “Tell me about your life before the alleged offense and prison.” Nervousness paralyzed his words, which I attributed to the natural reaction that unsounded desperation has when presented with a modicum of hope. His story was sadly common. Siblings defaulted to the role of parent while a mother worked three jobs. A father would show up occasionally, deliver a beating, and vanish. He knew precisely how many times he had seen the man. The last time, particularly memorable, involved a blow that left the boy disabled. The transitory family moved from government-subsidized housing to mobile home parks in the small North Georgia town. Some residences theirs, some the homes of kind neighbors who let them stay for awhile.
“Anything worth doing is worth measuring,” is the philosophy of the Fostering Court Improvement. Fostering Court Improvement is a non-profit organization that uses data to assist Dependency Courts and Child Welfare Agencies in making informed decisions, managing their operations, monitoring their performance and making systemic changes to improve outcomes for children and families. Their roots and founding are in Georgia. Georgia’s own Barton Child Law and Policy Clinic at Emory University works very closely with the Family Research Center at the University of Illinois to refine data so that it is usable and accessible to the courts and child welfare agencies. It is a terrific resource to our State and those involved in advocacy for the wellbeing of children in Georgia. They have an excellent website that has the latest information concerning many states including Georgia. Georgia’s data is very informative and complete. Data is sorted by county, region, judicial circuit and judicial district. Comparisons can be made relative to how counties are doing in comparison to each other. Did you know that in regard to counties per 10,000 residents that:
Children subject to maltreatment investigations – Lanier County was the highest (55.5) and Webster County was the lowest number of investigations (0).