Georgia’s long-awaited Juvenile Code rewrite— the first in four decades — is inching closer to completion. Some key stakeholders involved in shaping the legislation are scheduled to meet Friday afternoon to hammer out more details in Senate Bill 127, also known as the Child Protection and Public Safety Act. Many of the issues slated for discussion were raised at a Senate Judiciary Committee (SJC) hearing at the state capitol Monday. “We’ve had a positive start to the session and this hearing is just a part of finishing up the vetting of this bill,” said Sharon Hill, executive director of the Georgia Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, a non-profit helping to lead the rewrite effort. “Today was a good day.
The Senate Judiciary Committee will discuss the juvenile code rewrite bill SB 292, Article 6 next Monday at 2 pm in room 450 at the Capitol. Article 6 is controversial because it deals with Children in Need of Services (CHIN’s). These kids are considered status offenders under Georgia law. Currently, they are treated the same as delinquent kids. Article 6 would provide status offenders with family oriented services geared toward fixing their problems. Some of the agencies expected to attend include the Truancy Intervention Project, the Office of Child Advocacy and the Department of Behavioral Health. Attorney Julia Neighbors from Just Georgia wrote a passionate argument for Article 6:
“Current research and best practices now suggest that youth and families in crisis require a faster response than courts can offer and that juvenile justice systems are often ill-equipped to provide the services these youth and families need. ”
SB 292 was introduced at the end of the 2009 legislative session as the Child Protection and Public Safety Act. The intent of this important legislation is to comprehensively modernize and streamline the current stature concerning the juvenile code found in O.C.G.A. Title 15. The current code was adopted in 1971 and has been revised several times since. It is considered so out of date that the Georgia General Assembly passed a resolution in 2005 calling for its complete overhaul. SB 292 did not pass in the 2010 session, but was introduced purely to move the legislation forward in the next session. The code needs to be modernized for several reasons. It is so confusing and disorganized that even the most experienced judges and lawyers have trouble using it. It must be updated to comply with federal law dealing with child welfare and the federal funds attached to those laws. The revision of the code reflects the best practices of other states and evidence based practices of child welfare. We know more about child development than we did when the code was developed in 1971. This understanding needs to be reflected in Georgia’s laws. The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on this piece of legislation on Monday, August 9th at 2 pm at the Capitol in room 450. They will be hearing testimony on Article 6 in the code to create a new approach for intervening with children who are currently considered “unruly.” Children in Need of Services (CHINS) include children who have committed an act that would not be against the law but for the fact that they are children, such as skipping school, running away from home, drinking alcohol, and violating curfew. This would also include children who are “habitually disobedient” to their parents and place themselves or others in unsafe circumstances through their behavior. The courts now intervene with these children as if they were delinquency cases rather than in the more holistic, service-oriented approach of the rewrite. This approach has shown to be more effective, more cost efficient and more protective of public safety. __________________________
Normer Adams is Executive Director of the Georgia Association of Homes and Services for Children and a writer, speaker and consultant on family and social issues such as advocacy, lobbying, and child welfare policy. Learn more at www.gahsc.org/