More than two decades ago, thousands of families migrated to Clayton County from the city of Atlanta, where their public housing developments were being torn down in preparation for the 1996 Olympics. This sudden change presented several challenges, which included a rise in crime and poverty. In turn, Clayton County adopted a zero-tolerance policy within the school system. Unfortunately, the outcome was far from intent, as it led to an unprecedented spike in the amount of children who were unnecessarily arrested and in turn placed in detention centers.
Alarmed at the high amount of student referrals, the Juvenile Court’s, Chief Judge Teske, examined hundreds of case studies and was alarmed at what he found. Overwhelmingly the majority of court referrals were due to minor infractions or behavioral misconduct that did not warrant court involvement. This finding coupled with the knowledge that children who are arrested are statistically more likely to fall deeper into the juvenile justice system was profound for Clayton County. It meant that while we had adopted a zero-tolerance policy with the intent to promote safety, we were in fact promoting a school-to-prison pipeline. Fueled with the need to dismantle this pipeline, Teske galvanized community leaders and facilitated a community-wide conversation in hopes of identifying and establishing policies that would safeguard our community.
Our community-driven conversation led to the establishment of a School Justice Partnership (SJP) to reduce the unnecessary arrest and confinement of at-risk children by providing discipline alternatives that keep students in school, out of court and on to a positive and healthy future. Guided by Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) core strategies, our SJP implemented court programs to promote alternatives to traditional detention that have proven more successful in rehabilitation and restoration. Additionally, the county implemented the School Referral Reduction Protocol (SRRP), which clearly outlined the type of behaviors that mandated court involvement. This protocol led to a dramatic reduction in the number of court referrals, advanced restorative justice training for schools and their resource officers and halted the unnecessary arrest of hundreds of students thereby dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline.
One key piece, however, was still missing. Students with chronically disruptive behavioral challenges, that did not meet the SRRP defined criteria for referral to juvenile court, had underlying needs that were not being met. To meet their needs, the System of Care was enacted in 2008 to coordinate and facilitate interagency partnerships to deliver a comprehensive continuum of mental health services. Our SOC model is dedicated to strengthening children, families and communities by providing access to impactful evidence-based mental health services. Our groundbreaking quadrant of provider support emboldens a high level of program efficacy. CCSC has been nationally recognized as an award-winning program that addresses health and wellness disparities among Clayton County’s most vulnerable children. Children who just happen to be Clayton County's most vulnerable assets! Building on this strong history, today we deliver evidence based services that transform challenges into opportunities and lead to bright and healthy futures for individuals of all ages.