Professional Resource

Judge Deitra Burney-Butler, 2016 ZERO TO THREE Fellow, Improving Outcomes for Infants and Toddlers in Georgia

Apr 12, 2018

Judge Deitra Burney-Butler was appointed to the Clayton County Juvenile Court bench in January 2009. Five years later, she became a ZERO TO THREE Fellow and took her plan for improving dependency processes in her court to the next level.

Judge Deitra Burney-Butler is the lead judge for the Clayton County Juvenile Court in Georgia. The Juvenile Court hears all cases in matters of delinquency, cases involving children in need of services, and cases regarding dependency. As part of her role, Judge Burney-Butler collaborates with families, community-based organizations and agency partners to ensure the well-being of children in the child welfare system.

Judge Burney-Butler became a ZERO TO THREE Fellow to better understand the needs of infants and toddlers in the cases she hears, and to identify ways that the court system can better support their physical, social, and emotional development during the first three years.

“As a member of the 2014-2016 Class of ZERO TO THREE Fellows, I must say that the experience was invaluable,“ she said reflecting on her experience. "The opportunities afforded my class were transformative for the work I do and how impactful I have subsequently become on behalf of the community I serve.”

The ZERO TO THREE Fellowship challenges its Fellows to create and achieve a “Vision for Change,” and Judge Burney-Butler has been instrumental in updating the Dependency County Practice Guide and automating many of the systems in place so that more time can be spent with families and in her community. The Fellowship allowed Judge Burney-Butler to collaborate with experts and leaders across the early childhood field, and empowered her to take a multi-disciplinary approach to her work.

“The questions and suggestions from my ‘cousins’ (how I refer to my class fellows) and experts in the field who also attended the retreats, left me with a plan of action almost completely unrecognizable from the plan initially prepared. The changes and rearrangements to the vision produced outcomes that have been integrated, although in stages, into everyday practice in the court.“

In the courtroom, Judge Burney-Butler typically takes off her robe around young children to create a more welcoming experience and to help them feel less intimidated.

The ZERO TO THREE Fellowship is committed to supporting professionals across disciplines and sectors to be “change agents” in transforming programs, systems, and policies that impact the lives of infants, toddlers, and their families. Over the 32-year history of the Fellowship, more than 300 national and international leaders are alumni of this network and continue to impact the lives of babies and young children in profound ways. At her Fellowship graduation in May 2016, Judge Burney-Butler joined the ranks of the Academy of ZERO TO THREE Fellows, the Fellowship alumni network.

“If I could offer any advice, I would say open your mind to every aspect of the experience. The ZERO TO THREE Fellowship experience is far beyond anything you can imagine. It is transformative, it is full of moving parts and pieces, it will challenge you, and it will help you grow. Relationships, not just business connections, are built during the Fellowship experience.”