Many students become involved with one of Dwight Hall’s programs during their time at Yale. Emily Barton ’04 wants to tap this involved group to focus on one problem in particular: helping abused and neglected children navigate their way through New Haven’s complicated court system.

As more cases of child abuse and neglect surface, Barton said, having child advocates in the court system has become increasingly important. Barton, who volunteers in the New Haven chapter of Connecticut’s Children in Placement, or CIP, is trying to forge a new partnership between Dwight Hall and the local probate court.

Specifically, Barton is spearheading the creation of a “corps of students,” which she wants to act as a link between Dwight Hall’s 200-plus member groups and the probate court. The probate courts handles cases in which a relative petitions for a child’s placement in his or her home. Cases in probate court receive fewer resources than those in juvenile court, which is more closely supervised by the Department of Children and Family Services.

With the proposed partnership, still in its formative stages, the probate court judge would refer cases to Yale students, who would then link families to services, including tutoring and after school programs offered through Dwight Hall and other New Haven nonprofit institutions.

“It is clear we still have a lot to do before this program will be up and running because it is so important to have a specific focus and support in place, but everyone is very excited about its prospects,” Barton said. “It is truly exciting to bring Yalies, who are so enthusiastic about public service, to a place with real needs.”

“This will directly benefit the kids, and indirectly benefit the guardians, who are often overexerted,” she added. “It’s very important to construct a sustainable program. We’re dealing with real lives, and I would hate to start something without having it continue.”

Barton and CIP Director of Program Development John Kelley have met with the local probate judge and have additional meetings planned. Barton said she hopes to have the program up and running in January.

“Hopefully we can create a lasting relationship with Yale University,” Kelley said. “Dwight Hall offers many programs that can help the families in probate court.”

First, however, they will have to attract more students. The most recent informational session, held in Jonathan Edwards College, drew 10 Yale students, Kelley said. Another session will be held in a couple of weeks.

CIP operates under the umbrella nonprofit organization National Court Appointed Special Advocate Program, or CASA.

CASA programs rely solely on volunteers to advocate for children whose fates lie in the hands of a judge, who decides whether they remain in foster care, begin reunification with their families or are adopted. CIP facilitates the securing of safe homes and monitors each child’s case on an ad hoc basis, ensuring that children do not become victims of the inundated child welfare system.

Volunteers — like the Yale students who become involved with the CIP program — undergo detailed background checks before they work with judges, attorneys and social workers to become either a monitor or guardian ad litem, both of which work under professional supervision.

Monitors keep track of several cases to ensure that parents are complying with written regulations. Guardians Ad Litem are responsible for learning as much as possible about the assigned child through the review of court records and interviews with the child, parents, relatives and teachers. This information is subsequently reported to the judge.

A guardian ad litem is also the only person aside from the lawyer who can speak on behalf of the child in court.

Barton said she is also looking into creating a program to focus on adults struggling through court proceedings, many of whom are illiterate and required to fill out lengthy guardianship forms.