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When it comes to advocating for children, Caren Cloud has done it all. After spending 18 years representing children in juvenile and dependency court, advocating for clients in school disciplinary proceedings, and serving as legal director with the Truancy Intervention Project Georgia (TIP Georgia), she took on the challenging role of deputy chief administrative officer for the Fulton County Juvenile Court (after serving as the court program administrator), helping to keep the court focused on children even at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. In her current role as legal and policy director at Georgia Appleseed, she uses her years of experience to advocate for systemic policy changes for children across the state.

A native, third generation Atlantan, Caren went to college intending to be a broadcast journalist, but a summer job working with kids in Atlanta sent her in a different direction. Spending time with kids who grew up just a few miles away but who were dealing with issues she never had to face growing up completely shifted her mindset. “I knew I had to advocate for these kids and make a difference for them,” she said. And that is what she has been doing ever since.

While at TIP Georgia, Caren advocated for children in many contexts—representing them in dependency, delinquency, and status offenses, and working with community service providers and government agencies across the state to better understand how they work together to provide services and supports for children. The role gave her a holistic understanding of what is going on for kids at different stages and the myriad of issues her clients face at any given time.

After years of providing direct representation to children in the courtroom, she felt frustrated with the lack of programming and supports available to her clients. So, she moved to a role where she could make change from within—the deputy chief administrative officer at the Fulton County Juvenile Court. She described her work as a “wonderful experience” because she was able to bring a lot of evidence-based programs to a court that was then focused on getting children to change their behavior. “You can’t just tell kids what to do and what not to do,” she said, “you have to give them a plan for what to do instead.” She was quickly promoted to interim chief of juvenile court. A few weeks later, the pandemic hit. She became responsible for making sure the court system continued to function—there were kids in foster care or detained who could not be left behind. She described it as

one of scariest but also most fulfilling times, in that it taught me what I could do and how to bring people together in a very different way. Most of the people who work in the system, they love kids, they care about children. We came together to figure out how to do this important work to serve our kids.

Two years ago, Caren left her role to join Georgia Appleseed, where she currently serves as legal and policy director. Her new role allows her to focus not only on policy change to improve the lives of children in Georgia but also on making sure that new policies are implemented effectively. Today, she’s working to keep kids out of the court in the first place, steering systems away from the mindset of punitive measures and thinking about what is going to change behavior in the long term. For that reason, she’s focused on school justice and positive behavioral intervention in schools throughout the state.

When asked what keeps her going every day, she reflected on a child she lost to gun violence almost 10 years ago. It was a point in her career where she really questioned whether she was making a difference. But there were other kids there to lift her up. One former client became a teacher, and her daughter now wants to go to law school. Those kids serve as a reminder that, while she can’t save everyone, she can still make a difference.

You don’t have any control about how people’s life will go. The kids don’t stop coming. The problems don’t get easier. But I just love kids, I love young people. They make me laugh; I just love spending time with them. In doing this work, you’re planting seeds. You’re not always going to see the fruit, but it’s there whether you see it or not.

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