Erica Gilbert-Wason EJF Report

The 2010 EJF Fellows

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Equal Justice Foundation Report - Erica Gilbert-Wason

DeKalb Country Child Advocacy Center

This past summer I interned at the Dekalb County Child Advocacy Center (DCCAC) in Decatur, GA. Many counties assign children in deprivation proceedings a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) or a guardian ad litem, and although these people play an integral part in protecting the welfare of children, they are not attorneys. In Dekalb and Fulton Counties, however, children in deprivation proceedings must have their own attorney. In Dekalb County, attorneys at DCCAC represent children in deprivation proceedings.

I began my summer by attending a week long training at the Barton Clinic at Emory University with other students who would be working in a legal field serving children. After the Barton Clinic training, I began working at the DCCAC office, located in the Dekalb County Juvenile Court. Over the course of the summer, I had the opportunity to observe deprivation proceedings in the courtrooms of and meet all four Dekalb County Juvenile Court judges. I also had the opportunity to accompany the attorneys and investigators when they went to visit our clients in various different placements. I visited our child clients in foster homes, group homes, detention centers, relative placements, and medical centers. I worked with and interviewed various people in the deprivation process including case workers, foster parents, and child-clients. I drafted documents for submission to the court and worked on many small research projects.

In addition to the day to day work that I completed, I also had a summer long research project. My long terms research project focused on teenagers who would be aging out of foster care within the next few years. I did research and wrote memos on issues specific to the aging out population, helped write practice points for that population, and did research for a grant for funding services needed by teenagers in foster care. I also helped plan and carry out an Independent Living Forum where teenagers in foster care in Dekalb County could get information on services available to them after aging out of foster care, education options, and much more. The forum was extremely rewarding – I got to see all the work I had done all summer to put the forum together actually happen and finally meet many of the teens I had been contacting all summer in person.

I learned so much about child welfare, juvenile law, the Department of Family and Children’s Services (DFCS) during the course of my internship with DCCAC. I loved the work I did and I loved the passionate people I worked with this summer. I am sincerely thankful for the fellowship I received from the Equal Justice Foundation and for the donors who made the fellowship possible. Without the fellowship I would not have been able to accept such an amazing job and would have been forced to take a position where I had less of a positive impact and that I enjoyed much less. I gained invaluable legal experience working for DCCAC this summer, made a difference in the lives of children in Dekalb County, and had an amazing time doing so.