Sunday, April 23, 2006

Qualified and Motivated Lawyers for Foster Children

No child leaves or enters foster care without a court decision. Courts determine abuse or neglect, whether the child will remain home or go to foster care and whether or not to terminate parental rights so that a child is eligible for adoption.

Dependency courts have large dockets and limited resources. In many cases, courts lack the tools, information and accountability to make decisions in the best interests of each individual foster child. Not surprisingly, courts often do a poor job of maintaining safety one the child is removed.

Children have the right to be represented in court. However, their attorneys often have limited training and high caseloads -- sometimes as large as 2,000, which is unconscionable. There is low compensation for dependency attorneys -- and lawyers tend to have a lot of student loan debt to repay.

If you or I went to court, we would want an experienced lawyer. One who would take the time necessary to listen to the intricacies of our case. We'd want our lawyer to be someone highly motivated to represent us to the best of their ability.

One of the many court recommendations by the PEW Commission is for Congress to explore loan forgiveness for dependency attorneys and to offer continuing education opportunities.

I will share more of the PEW commission's recommendations in order to hold the court accountable to provide safety and permanency for foster children in my next series of blog entries.

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I am pretty sure this is already the case in Texas- to some extent. While reading up on the laws, it pretty much said that, insofar as the court is involved, CPS or law enforcement have the authority to remove the child *if* there is a court order, *or* the person removing has sufficient evidence to believe that the child is in danger. So the court orders exist, but they don't necessarily *have* to be followed.

Thanks for answering my question about if advocating for children is your career. You said that if you could afford it, you would quit your job and advocate for kids all the time. However, I see my own situation as setting my career goal to do anything to *help* kids, rather than to just be *advocating* in a political or court setting. If you work in a children's library, then you are fulfilling my definition of a career to help/advocate for kids, at least better than I am at the moment.
(Because your job deals with kids).

Also, the kids you help at your paid job don't necessarily have to be foster kids in order for you to make a difference. There could be a child living with both biological parents, but living in her own secret hell, and just the fact that you kindly take time to help her might be enough to give her a boost that you will never know the value of.
Hi Lisa.

I dropped by to visit. I started to comment but it grew too big...I will post on my blog and link to you!

It might not happen today though.
2000 cases is UNTHINKABLE! I would LOVE to get student loan forgiveness in exchange for doing dependency work--our prosecutor's office handles most of it here, but I could see people doing pro bono work for them if it meant less student loans--they're brutal.
Tuition forgiveness in exchange for pro bono representation of kids is an awesome idea, but its success would depend on the jurisdiction. In Iowa, the court- appointed attorney list doesn't allow for you to represent kids only. You put the name on the list, and you'll generally represent parents (abusers included) and kids, with little choice in the matter. That's a hard thing for some of us to do, though the forgiveness would come in handy financially.
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