“When children can’t read to learn, they become disruptive—and when they are disruptive, they are more likely to become court-connected. But, when we provide early intervention and ensure children have access to the services they need and are entitled to, they are able to flourish and are less likely to end up in court or incarcerated.”

Wenona C. Belton, Fulton County Juvenile Court Judge

Fulton County Juvenile Court Judge Wenona Belton supports language and literacy development as a way to prevent children and youth from becoming court-connected, to reduce recidivism, and to empower parents in her courtroom and in the community to help their children chart a pathway toward a new and brighter future.

Data suggests that the majority of youth who come before the court struggle with literacy, learning disabilities, and/or behavioral health challenges. That data is reinforced by what Judge Belton sees in her courtroom and what she saw in her previous roles as a public defender and attorney for the Department of Family and Children Services.

To break the school-to-prison pipeline, Judge Belton is promoting programs in the juvenile court that help youth access the supports and services they need to get back on track. The Truancy Intervention Program, housed in the Fulton Juvenile Court building, addresses issues that contribute to young children’s chronic absenteeism and provides legal counsel and support to youth facing truancy cases in court.

Launched by Presiding Judge Renata D. Turner in 2016, the Fulton School-Justice Pathways Partnership has led to a 50-percent reduction in school-based delinquency referrals by bringing together representatives of the court with Fulton County Schools, Atlanta Public Schools, and other key partners to develop strategies for addressing minor school-based offenses in the schools rather than the courts.

To empower parents in their roles as their child’s advocate, the court also developed a resource guide for parents to help them access the mental health, behavior, education, developmental disabilities, and other services their families need.