By Curt Yeomans
Clayton County District Attorney Tracy Graham-Lawson wants to give "bear hugs" to at least 300 Clayton children who are separated from their parents by the criminal justice system.
Graham-Lawson's office is collecting stuffed toys for children who are processed through the county's juvenile system, or through the victim's assistance programs which fall under the supervision of the offices of the district attorney, and Solicitor General Tasha Mosely.
Graham-Lawson, a former Clayton County juvenile court judge, said the stuffed animals will help young children through "traumatic experiences," such as being separated from their parents, or having to testify in court.
"When I was a judge, there were several occasions where I saw children who were frightened by the experience," Graham-Lawson said. "If we can give them a bear to hold onto, it calms them down. Sometimes, they may not want to talk to the judge, but they're willing to talk about their experiences to the bear."
The "Bearable Hugs for Georgia's Children" program is overseen by the Georgia Department of Human Resources' Division of Family and Children Services. The Child Support Services department in the Clayton district attorney's office falls under the division. This is the first year the program has been undertaken in Clayton County.
The bears collected in Clayton will be split evenly between the district attorney's office, the juvenile courts, and the solicitor general's office. Graham-Lawson said it will be up to officials in each office to determine how the bears will be distributed.
The district attorney's office will collect the stuffed toys until Valentine's Day, Feb. 14. Just a week into the collections, the office has already reached one-third of its goal.
The 19 high school students in the Clayton County Police Department's Explorers program are among those who have already donated stuffed animals. The pupils donated 38 toys, according to Lt. Tina Daniel, the program's sponsor.
"We do a lot of community service projects throughout the community," Daniel said. "This is something they thought would be neat to participate in. They like to do things with children."
Daniel said toys received from law enforcement officials often make children more comfortable.
"These are children in adult situations, and this really helps them get through it," said Daniel. "The toy is something they can relate to."
Stuffed toys can be dropped off at the district attorney's office at the Harold R. Banke Justice Center, 9151 Tara Blvd., Jonesboro; the county's administration building, 112 Smith St., Jonesboro, and the Clayton County Police headquarters, 7911 North McDonough St., Jonesboro. For more information, call (770) 477-3450.