October 20, 1997
Volume 50, No. 9
When Julia Day was a first-year student at the School of Law, she spent a summer seeing how cases of child abuse and neglect could take place "from the beginning to the very gruesome end."
During her time participating in the Child Advocacy Project (CAP) summer program for law students, Day saw everything from "a baby in Grady's neonatal unit that was born drug-exposed" to the "body in the county morgue of a child killed by a parent." That summer charted her career course, and Day, who graduated in 1995, now works as director of the Fulton County Juvenile Court's CASA (Court-Appointed Special Advocate) program.
"The experience laid the foundation for what I do," said Day.
The CAP program, which has been in place at Emory for five years, provides law students the experience of working as advocates for children caught up in the legal system. The federally funded summer program gives legal students the opportunity to hone their skills-in and out of the courtroom-and also provides a valuable service to the overtaxed courts and advocates in the juvenile justice system.
"While the educational goal of this project is to allow students to learn about the legal processes and contribute to handling cases and working with judges, hopefully this experience will continue after the students graduate," said Janette Pratt, administrative professor of field programs at the law school.
The CAP experience provides students with valuable legal studies; not only do they get to appear before judges and serve as counsel for children in the juvenile system, they also work on briefs and Law Review articles, conduct legal research, and work closely with social workers and staff at the Department of Family and Children's Services (DFACS). On a personal level, the experience offers students a chance to get a close-up look at a side of life they may never have witnessed.
"This is an intense, eye-opening experience for many students," said Pratt. "Many of them have no idea about the lives these children lead. They learn about the interplay of poverty, drugs and child deprivation and abuse. They also see how a child can move from deprivation to delinquency and enter into the legal system long term."
Andrew Fishman, an Emory student who participated in CAP last summer concurred. "I wanted to work on cases and have a strong influence on the direction we pursued with these cases. I expected to experience some emotionally troubling cases, and I expected to be affected deeply by them. It is one thing to expect something, and it is quite another to actually experience it. One case I'll never forget involved the rape of a 2-year-old Vietnamese girl," he recalled.
"This is an emotionally draining, yet compelling, area of law," Pratt said. The student advocates assist in child deprivation and molestation cases. After suspected abuse or deprivation has been reported to DFACS (most often by a physician or teacher), the case is investigated by a social worker and a deprivation petition filed in juvenile court. The advocates get involved at this point, representing the child's best interest when a decision is made about sending the child into foster care, uniting a family or putting the child up for adoption.
The holistic approach and interdisciplinary skills that students gain in participating in CAP have been expanded beyond the law school. A course has been developed that is now offered as an elective to medical students and pediatric residents. This child advocacy elective has a legal component that trains future doctors and pediatricians in the appropriate way to report suspected child abuse or neglect.
The Child Advocacy Project is funded by a federal grant made possible by the Children Justice Act. In addition, this ongoing initiative has received private grants from donors such as the General Mills and Delta Air Lines foundations. These grants have allowed the project to expand its scope. For example, working with Georgia Legal Services, 1997 CAP participants helped make a training video for children's advocates.
"I appreciate that Emory has made a commitment to making the Child Advocacy Project work. You can see it in the Emory grads who are involved in helping children," said Day, for whom that's demonstrated relatively close to home. Her Fulton County Juvenile Court colleague, judge's clerk Deirdre Stephens, is also an Emory grad and a former CAP participant.
-Rebecca Poynor Burns
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