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Randy Burton: Founder and President, Justice for Children, Houston, TX

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Randy Burton Founder and President, Justice for Children, Houston, TX. He founded JFC a national nonprofit organization headquartered in Houston, TX, in 1987.

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                            Randy Burton: Founder and President, Justice for
                            Children, Houston, TX
                            [by Charisse Dengler]
                            A Southern boy with a heart of gold, Randy Burton has devoted his career to advocating on behalf of those too young
                            to fight their own battles. As Founder and President of Justice for Children (JFC), Burton is striving to make the
                            world a safer place for children.



Burton founded JFC, a national nonprofit            “This poor child was learning disabled—            “overcoming bias and ineptitude concerning
organization headquartered in Houston, TX,          something that’s not all that uncommon             child abuse.”
in 987 in order to open people’s eyes to the       in these situations, because this is her
problems with the way the government was            stepfather and people tend to take advantage       “A lot of lawyers, prosecutors, people
dealing with abused and neglected children.         of children that it’s more difficult for them to   in the family court, and judges really do
Since then, the organization has expanded           outcry—and there was a beautifully written         not understand the dynamics that are
to include offices in Arizona, Michigan, and        letter in the D.A.’s file using terms of legal     involved with child abuse,” he said. “They
Washington, DC.                                     art and so forth, where she had recanted her       don’t understand the problems with child
                                                    testimony,” he said.                               witnesses. They don’t understand why
“My first job as a lawyer was with the D.A.’s                                                          children recant. They don’t understand how
office here in Houston, and I worked my             “I believe that it was something that her          all the dynamics work, and they don’t want to
way up to the Chief Prosecutor of Family            stepfather’s lawyer put her up to and helped       believe—I think a lot of people in the general
Offenses,” he said. “It was during that             her write, and I didn’t believe it. It not only    public don’t, a lot of lay people—that a parent
experience that I saw something that really         flew in the face of all the evidence, but          or someone in a position of trust with a child
disturbed me, and that is that the system           there’s a very well accepted theory called         would take advantage of that for their own
that’s designed to protect children is failing      the child abuse accommodation syndrome,            selfish interests.”
that task horribly.”                                where children recant because of all the
                                                                                                       It was after the death of Jesse Wheeler
                                                    tremendous pressure they’re under from
                                                                                                       in 987 that Burton vowed to create an
Burton’s very first case for the D.A.’s office      family and others to not go through with this
                                                                                                       organization that would do all it could to
involved a little girl who had been raped by        for lots of bad reasons like, in this case, the
                                                                                                       protect the nation’s children. Wheeler, who
her stepfather for four years; and when she         mother didn’t want to lose the income string
                                                                                                       was two years old at the time of his death,
reported the abuse to her school nurse, the         from her husband, who was not the father of
                                                                                                       was murdered shortly after being taken out
nurse contacted Child Protective Services           the child.”
                                                                                                       of protective custody and put back into his
(CPS). However, CPS told the nurse to go
                                                                                                       mother’s home.
ahead and send the child home with her              As soon as Burton realized what had
stepfather and said it would conduct an             happened, JFC issued a warrant and had her
                                                                                                       “CPS had a lengthy history on the family,
interview the following week. The nurse, not        picked up.
                                                                                                       and he was kind of the poster child for how
supporting this course of action, took it upon
                                                                                                       the system was failing to protect children,”
herself to bring in officials, who removed          “She broke down on the stand the next day
                                                                                                       Burton said. “So, I called the community
the girl from the home and put her into             and tearfully disclosed what had happened
                                                                                                       together and wrote an op-ed and said,
protective custody.                                 to her, and her stepfather went to prison for
                                                                                                       ‘Let’s formulate some kind of grassroots
                                                    a lengthy term; but that experience was so
                                                                                                       response.’ When the system fails children,
Burton, who began working on the case               outrageous,” he said. “I asked the nurses if
                                                                                                       there’s got to be a safety net or some sort
after it had been in the system for a couple        they’d ever had any other experiences like
                                                                                                       of organization that advocates for their
years, was dismayed one day upon arriving to        that, and they said this is the rule, not the
                                                                                                       protection. And that’s how Justice for
question his client to discover that the little     exception.”
                                                                                                       Children got started.”
girl had recanted her testimony and been
released to her stepfather.                         Burton said one of the major challenges he         JFC currently handles around 0,000 calls
                                                    faces is “overcoming bureaucratic inertia          a year and goes to court or does other
                                                    with the various governmental agencies” and        intensive work on about 500 cases a year.



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Burton and his team of lawyers and social         sense; and it’s certainly [at] the child’s       Burton knows these guidelines sound
workers start out by building an evidence file    expense if they decide to engage in that         ridiculous, but said most people would be
to locate where the problem lies. They then       experiment,” he said.                            surprised by the number of cases in which a
begin working behind the scenes to bring                                                           murder by a parent is not enough to remove
about the result they want; and if that doesn’t   Burton said it is still difficult to remove      the other children from the home, a reality
work, they go to court and advocate on behalf     some of the entrenched attitudes at the          that JFC is fighting to change.
of the child or children.                         state level about preserving families, but he
                                                  believes JFC is making progress. In 997,        Burton, who splits his time between The
After noticing a pattern with CPS of putting      the organization helped pass a law called        Burton Law Firm, P.C., and JFC, donates
children back into unsafe environments,           the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 997       between 500 and 600 hours a year to JFC,
JFC decided to do some research on the            in which certain guidelines were established     working as a pro bono attorney while raising
subject, and it found that a 980 law known       that helped shift the pro-family focus of the    money and awareness.
as the Child Welfare and Adoption Assistance      980s to a child-protection focus.
Act of 980 actually withheld federal funds                                                        “I would encourage every law student who’s
from CPS organizations if they did not make       “What we said was, in this new law, family       interested in protecting children to at least
reasonable efforts to keep families together.     preservation in and of itself is no longer the   consider donating some time to this cause,
Since it became aware of this, one of JFC’s       overarching goal of matching federal funds.      whether it’s as an ad litem attorney, or
main missions has been to make CPS and            The overarching goal now is protection of        donating some time to Justice for Children or
the public understand that not all situations     the child,” Burton said. “Family preservation    another similar worthy cause,” he said. “They
merit these efforts.                              is an element that should be considered          can work for any kind of law firm and still
                                                  because we all want to preserve families that    donate time to protecting children; and if this
“It’s the so-called ‘reasonable efforts’          can be preserved without risking the child’s     is something they decide is their life’s work,
legislation, and our position is that no effort   welfare; but when it can’t be, protection        they can go to work as a lawyer for CPS or
is required when a child’s bones are being        of the child should be the most important        the D.A.’s office, or they can go to work for
broken or they’re being raped in their home,      concern.”                                        us.”
to preserve that family—that it’s already
patently unreasonable to leave them in that       “In order to reduce this to almost idiot-proof   “Because I will say there’s no work that’s
environment—but that’s not the way that it        levels, we established some basic threshold      more gratifying,” he said. “You’ll never feel
was interpreted by CPS, who already had           requirements for when children had to be         better about yourself and about using your
sort of a predisposition to see if they could     removed; and they included things like if        skills than you do in trying to protect a child
perform a social miracle with the family,”        one child in the home has been murdered          whose life is at risk if you’re not there for
Burton said.                                      by a parent, you should remove the other         them.”
                                                  children,” he said. “We also said that when
“And, of course, that might happen in cases       one child is sexually abused, that child must    On the Net
of neglect or isolated physical abuse, but        be removed from the home, as well as the         Justice for Children    The Burton Law
chronic or horrible physical abuse or any         other children; and in cases where there’s       Firm, P.C. Texas Department of Family and
kind of sexual abuse are not situations where     been serious bodily injury, you have to          Protective Services
that experiment with the family makes any         remove that child from the home.”




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