Violence has become a prominent part of too many children’s lives. The problem of child abuse and neglect has risen to an epidemic proportion in this country. Newspaper headlines detail the tragic consequences that impact many children who suffer abuse and neglect, and who becomes part of a foster care system often too overburdened to take timely and effective action. Crushing caseloads and limited budgets often stand in the way of child-centered and proactive intervention.
Lawyers for Children America engages pro bono attorneys and their law firms or corporate legal departments to help address the issue of abuse and neglect. The program’s objectives are:
- To implement services that will help children and youth who are victims of abuse and neglect;
- To encourage the courts to utilize our network of volunteer attorneys and staff to receive abuse and neglect cases;
- To increase the number of volunteer attorneys who provide free legal services to abused and neglected children by establishing institutional commitment on the part of major law firms; corporate legal departments; government agencies; national, state and local bar associations and universities; and by establishing local affiliates of Lawyers for Children America across the United States to support that commitment;
- To improve the child welfare system in coordination with other national and local organizations; and
- To increase public awareness of issues related to youth and violence.
Lawyers for Children America trains and provides ongoing support to attorneys who have committed themselves to providing pro bono representation to children in the abuse and neglect system. These attorneys serve as unyielding legal advocates, ensuring that necessary services are accessed for the child and family, minimizing the upheaval and trauma typically associated with foster care, and working toward finding a safe and permanent home for the child. The ongoing training and support that Lawyers for Children America provides enables volunteer attorneys to address the multiple needs of children such as medical and dental, special education, emotional and enrichment in a comprehensive manner.
Recognizing that effective legal advocacy for children requires knowledge of developmental, maturational and psychological principles, Lawyers for Children America and the Yale Child Study Center (Connecticut) have established a partnership that enriches and informs the work of child advocates by providing a comprehensive core training curriculum and clinical case consultation. Lawyers for Children America has also worked with Children’s National Medical Center (Washington, D.C.) and Children’s Psychiatric Center (Miami) to supplement Yale’s work with Lawyers for Children America. These partnerships enable volunteer attorneys to “red flag” mental health issues, identify the type of service needed and help to access that service in the community.
After case assignment, volunteers meet regularly with Lawyers for Children America staff to discuss issues and to plan how best to move the case forward. The goal is to assess each child’s needs in a holistic, comprehensive way, which includes an examination of medical, mental health, educational, emotional, and legal needs. During this period of state intervention, the attorneys also seek to minimize further trauma including multiple foster care placements, inadequate mental health services, multiple interviews, or separation from siblings. Lawyers for Children America volunteers take the time to build a relationship with the child to ensure that they understand their client’s needs and interests and to give the child a voice in decision-making to the greatest extent possible. The case summaries presented below illustrate how Lawyers for Children America volunteers have made a significant difference in the lives of the children they represent.
Meet Keith*, Carl* and Thomas*
*Not real names