How a Georgia Court Influenced Educational Outcomes

We followed up with Hall County Superior Court Judge Lindsay Burton after she shared some graduation pictures with us.  

Three students who found success (and graduation!) after coming into juvenile court.

Michelle Barclay:  Judge Burton, we interviewed you two years ago while you were serving as Chief Juvenile Court Judge in Hall County.  Since then, you’ve moved to the Superior Court bench.  Thank you so much for agreeing to do this second interview with me because you recently showed me some wonderful graduation pictures featuring children from your previous Juvenile Court caseload.  Years ago, you told me that when you became a Juvenile Court Judge, you were alarmed by the educational needs of the children coming before you in court.  How did you discover those educational needs?  Were educational needs routinely presented to you while in court for a child’s case?

Judge Burton:  It depends on the case type.  Our probation team and officers are school-based so education needs and status are a big part of their report.  Thus, if I saw a child who was on probation, or who was charged with a delinquent or CHINS offense, it was easy to get great information on a child’s education situation.  Whereas, for children in foster care, I really relied on CASA. The CASAs did a good job focusing on education and gave me even more details once it was clear that educational information was always a priority for me.  I never had to beg for that information, they knew I would always be asking these questions so they were prepared. 

MB:  As you learned that the children before your court were not doing well educationally, you worked to set up some services at your court.  Tell our readers about how that came about how did it happen? And how does the program work now?

Judge Burton: A lot of what the Court can do for children depends on what type of case is filed for the child in juvenile court.  When children have a delinquent charge or are on probation for delinquent offenses, we were the beneficiary and continue to be the beneficiary of CJCC’s Juvenile Justice Incentive grant.   That grant provided our court funds for tutoring for the delinquent side of the docket.  A lot of children with delinquent charges also have issues with attending school. And of course, if you don’t attend school, you’re just not going to do well in school. Also, when one does not feel that you can be successful in school, you might avoid school.  However, we found that putting one on one tutoring services in place gave kids the competence and confidence to go to school every day. 

If they did not understand what was taught in algebra class that day, they would have tutoring two or three times a week where the subjects were reviewed.  We’ve seen drastic positive results from these services.  We’ve seen kids who were failing everything to passing just about everything in one semester with continued tutoring support.  That CJCC grant made all of this possible. 

However, I did get frustrated that we did not have a lot of resources for our children on our CHINs docket.   Many of those children need those services too.  I hope that changes in the future. We’ve been very responsible with our “supervision funds” that we receive from kids on probation, or that go through informal adjustment. Before I left the Juvenile Court and came to the Superior Court, I approved a portion of the ‘supervision funds’ to be spent on tutoring services for the children on the CHINs docket.  Many of them are truant and, again, if those children are not feeling successful at school and feel like it’s impossible, they are not going to go to school.  Since we’ve started providing tutoring services to the children on the CHINs docket, we’ve seen a big improvement already in school attendance and performance.  

As for children on the dependency docket, it took a much longer fix.  I would ask questions from day one about education to all the case managers who appeared before me.  We also focused our dependency stakeholder meetings (with funding provided by Committee on Justice for Children or J4C) on educational opportunities for kids, whether or not the child was under or over 18.  Tutoring services should already be available to foster children, but it took experienced case managers to know how to put all those resources in place.  When we have stability in our case managers in our county, things would go well.  When we had turnover of case managers, the services suffered.  However, during times of stability, again, we saw a lot of success when foster children got tutoring services.  We also held classes to become more educated in regards to the opportunities available for kids in foster care which our CASAs and guardian ad litems came to be become be better advocates.  Educating the entire system helped significantly.

MB: Tell us a bit more about the tutoring services in your county.

Judge Burton: We contracted with a tutoring company,  3cTutoring,  that exists in Hall County. Most of the time parents are expected to get kids to the 3CTutoring location, and hopefully pick them up. However, we do have some transportation assistance if necessary. The company has been a great partner.   The company has gone to social media and successfully obtained snack donations because when tutoring happens three nights a week, the kids get very hungry. 

Thus, the company has gone above and beyond to make sure that our kids had what they needed.  They were very positive about working with kids on delinquent probation because sometimes that is an obstacle.  Sometimes providers are afraid to bring these sorts of young people into their facilities but we’ve had no problems. In fact, one of our local school systems has sort of mirrored our program and is partnering with the same agency that we’ve been using, for kids who might get an out-of-school suspension.  Instead of staying home all day, the suspended children will get tutoring assistance. It is great to see that our success has led to other innovations for children within our community.

MB:  Do you have any formal outcomes from this program?

Judge Burton:  We don’t have any formal outcomes.  In my experience, we have not had a single negative outcome in putting tutoring services in place.  The vast majority have passed all their classes.

MB: Is the program sustainable? 

Judge Burton:  I think so.  We have a really good working relationship with all our partners. The CJCC has been very supportive with grant money.  But we should always question sustainability when one relies on grant dollars.  Now we are seeing local school systems plugging in tutoring services which hopefully prevents children from ever coming to juvenile court which makes the court program more sustainable too.  

MB:  You’ve shared three pictures with me of recent high school graduates that you’ve gotten to know.  We won’t name the graduates but can you tell me and our readers something about them?  

Judge Burton:  I’ll just tell you a general summary about these young people.  I’ve gotten these pictures and stories over the years from the guardian ad litems, SAAGs, and case managers.  There was an AJC article in 2018 that said that only a tiny fraction of children in foster care graduate from high school which really affected me.  My court has only a fraction of the children in Georgia, but the group of pictures that you see here (and there are others who did not want us to use their photos) all experienced trauma.  Some of the trauma was substance abuse by parents or themselves, some of them experienced sexual abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, and abandonment.   It was hard listening to the evidence of these cases and I can’t imagine being the child that was experiencing it. When one has a high level of trauma and they have to go to school like everyone else while missing other members of your family, your friends, your things, etc, can be very hard.  The graduates this year had so much resiliency, put in so much effort, showed so much bravery, and did so much hard work for themselves.  They all had different paths to get to graduation. I am just so proud of them and they inspire me.

MB: Your passion for the graduates and your community comes through in this interview.  If you had resources at your disposal and you could influence the whole state, what would you love to see happen in the area of education for the kids who come to juvenile court?

Judge Burton: I wish every jurisdiction had access to the tutoring resources that we have. It is harder to get tutoring on the foster care side but when we have stable case managers it makes all difference.  We are grateful to Supreme Court Committee on Justice for Children which supports our stakeholder meetings. We use those meetings to address the educational needs of all the children in juvenile court with the whole juvenile court system. That level of stakeholder buy-in is so important so I wish that for everyone.

MB: In January 2023, you moved from Juvenile Court to Superior Court. How is that transition going for you personally?

Judge Burton: I love my new job. I do miss juvenile court and I still see a lot of the same individuals regularly. It was hard missing the Juvenile Court Conference because I have made so many good friends. We have a lot of phenomenal Juvenile Court Judges across this state. I’m glad I can still check in on the children I met over the years in Juvenile Court. However, I really enjoy my new job.

Judge Lindsay Burton

Judge Lindsay H. Burton

Superior Court of the Northeastern Judicial Circuit

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