Tomlinson (J.D. ’00) Helps Caregivers Navigate Foster Care
Like numerous attorneys before her, Nancee Tomlinson (J.D. ’00) delves into her education and experiences to create the books she’s writing.
Unlike other writers, some who spin words of bloodshed, heartache, passion and justice into fictional tales to entertain readers, Tomlinson uses her words to shed light on the reality she has seen play out in the courtroom. Her goal is to help those who face family-related judicial decisions to regain a measure of control over their lives. Her books, Success in Dependency Court —A Parent’s Guide to Completing a CPS Case Plan and Caregiver’s Compass: Navigating Foster Care, are how-to guides for that process.
Tomlinson admits to always having been a “pushy, kinda strong,” outspoken person, especially for those needing help.
“I went into law because I thought that was the best path for me to be a voice to help those who have no voice,” she said. “Some people don’t speak up for themselves when they can, or they don’t understand that they can.”
Her private practice in Athens, Georgia, specializes in criminal defense of felonies and misdemeanors. She represents juveniles charged with delinquency; advocates for parents in dependency cases as well as child abuse registry cases; and handles guardianship and other probate matters. During her career, she has worked with civil litigation, family law litigation and juvenile court matters, including delinquency, deprivation and guardian ad litem appointments.
On any given day in Georgia, about 12,700 children are in the foster care system. In the state’s 2016 fiscal year, 19,466 children went through the system.
Cases dealing with children in the foster care system took an emotional toll on Tomlinson. Navigating a cumbersome, multifaceted, albeit well-meaning, system was so stressful that she had to take a break from most of those cases, though she still manages a few.
“Our job is to make sure the children get what they need,” Tomlinson said. “But the system is getting more complex.” She cited the layers of people and services that one must go through before a child can get what he or she needs, as well as dealing with parents who don’t understand the system and foster parents who become overwhelmed.
Feeling compelled to contribute positively to making the system work better, Tomlinson began writing books that provide crucial information to parents and foster parents — information that they may have already heard from their attorneys or the judge, but most likely don’t remember. Because of the deep-seated emotions and complex legal processes involved in these proceedings, many clients can’t keep track of it all. The books help parents and foster parents navigate the numerous actions, people, places and appointments for which they are responsible, detailing how to meet expectations and goals.
Unfortunately, many people who end up in court often don’t know the court’s unwritten rules either, Tomlinson said, so the book for parents provides basic information on how to assert and present oneself in the courtroom. For example, don’t be late; don’t wear shorts and a tank top.
Many parents want to fight the judge over their perceived injustice, insisting they can raise their children the way they want, she said.
“I tell them, ‘You want to beat DFACS [Division of Family and Children Services]? You play their game and win,’” Tomlinson said. “Once the court finds dependency, the parents need to quit fighting the judge and do what the court has ordered. It’s that simple, but very di cult for many people to understand.”
She stresses that they should show the judge the matter is important to them by meeting the court’s requirements, such as visiting their children in foster care regularly and completing the court-ordered evaluations. Tomlinson’s approach is positive and respectful, with the assumption that every parent wants the best for their child; they just need certain guidelines.
Both books are available through Amazon, and Tomlinson hasn’t discounted the possibility of one day joining the ranks of attorneys-turned-novelists. But for now, her focus is on helping others — by getting what she’s already written into the hands of parents prior to standing before the judge.