Hall County Chief Assistant Public Defender Nicki Vaughan, of Gainesville, was recognized in April by the Georgia Appleseed Center for Law and Justice for her lifelong dedication and service to improving the lives of children in need.
Georgia Appleseed is a nonprofit, nonpartisan law center “with the mission to increase justice in Georgia through law and policy reform and community engagement,” according to the organization’s website. “We seek a Georgia where the voices of poor people, children and marginalized people are heard and where injustices that no one should endure are resolved.”
Vaughn is a founder and chairman of the Child Protection and Advocacy Section of the State Bar, a program specifically honored by Georgia Appleseed.
And Vaughan’s work to help develop that “children’s section” in family law practice, “and the difference it has made to the practice of law related to children and children’s issues,” was recognized for its innovation.
“I told them this was a joint effort,” Vaughan said. “It takes lots of people to do good work.”
Since the 1980s, Vaughan has been a tireless champion for at-risk children and youth in need through juvenile and family court advocacy.
She began her career in child protective case services.
“That was (an) extremely eye-opening experience,” Vaughan said.
It also was motivating.
From there, Vaughan said, she became more and more involved in services for neglected, abused and in-need children, ultimately prompting her to help launch Georgia’s first Court Appointed Special Advocate Program, better known as CASA.
“It’s one of the things that got me involved” and “inspired me to go to law school,” Vaughan said.
At the time, Georgia was just one of four states without a single CASA program, a nonprofit whose mission aims to “protect and promote the best interests of abused and neglected children involved in the juvenile courts by utilizing trained, screened and supervised community volunteers that provide quality advocacy and representation to these innocent victims.”
Vaughan attended a national conference of CASA programs. And with local juvenile court judges and the state bar in support, as well as support from the likes of the Atlanta Junior League, Gainesville became home to the first pilot CASA program in the state.
“CASA is my baby and I’m thrilled with our office here,” Vaughn said. “It was the right place at the right time. Everything just fell into place.”
Vaughan said assistance from the National CASA Association and the Gainesville community helped make it a success from the start.
More than 20 individuals had or were receiving training to be a CASA volunteer by the end of its first year, Vaughan said.
“And it has just continued to grow and grow and grow,” she added. “I cannot say I’d be prouder of anything. I can’t imagine not having it now.”