Under the inspired leadership of Jacksonville Bar Association President Ray Driver, The JBA Board of Governors decided last year to consolidate all sections and committees dealing with children and children's issues into one section.
The result was the aptly named Protecting Our Children Section. As a longtime child advocate, I was honored when asked to chair this new and vitally important section of The JBA.
I was most pleased when fellow child advocate Connie Byrd of Byrd & Byrd agreed to join me as vice chair.
Within the section are multiple committees, many that were previously JBA sections. They are the Juvenile Dependency Committee, the Juvenile Delinquency Committee, the Family Law Committee, the Legal Needs of Children Committee, the Adoption Committee and the Attorney Ad Litem Subcommittee.
Each committee has a chair and vice chair who practice within that area.
• The Juvenile Dependency Committee is chaired by Michelle Rollins of L.A. Law and 4th Circuit Magistrate Denise DeLorenzo serves as vice chair. It was formerly part of the Juvenile Law and Guardian Ad Litem Section, but was established as its own committee given the distinct issues presented by abused, abandoned and neglected children in foster/state care.
The committee's focus is to serve children in the juvenile dependency/child welfare system, increase awareness of child protection issues and assist attorneys who practice in this often mysterious area.
The committee has started quickly and recently met for a member cocktail hour.
• The Juvenile Delinquency Committee is chaired by Don Anderson of McGuireWoods. Rob Mason, Juvenile Division chief at the Public Defender's Office, serves as vice chair. Like the Juvenile Dependency Committee, the Juvenile Delinquency Committee was once part of the Juvenile Law and Guardian Ad Litem Section.
The committee's primary focus will be on the increased practice of prosecuting children as adults, also known as direct filing, as well as the continued prosecution of children with mental health problems.
• The Family Law Committee, formerly known as the Family Law Section, is chaired by Joy Owenby of Owenby Law. Ashley Myers of McCorvey & Myers serves as vice chair. The committee's focus continues to be assisting family law practitioners with CLE, networking, resources and interaction with the Family Law Bench.
The committee is planning two "Lunch-n-Learns" for this spring and summer. Marla Buchanan has agreed to speak at one and Ashley Myers will present rule updates.
The committee also is starting a family law newsletter.
• The Adoption Committee is chaired by Judi Setzer of the Law Office of Judi Setzer. Whether domestic, international, Department of Children and Families or special needs, the focus of this committee is all about adoption.
It includes assisting those practicing in this distinct area and increasing awareness of adoption issues. The committee has sponsored two CLE seminars over the past few years and is currently planning another in 2013. Stay tuned.
• The Legal Needs of Children Committee, formerly known as the Special Needs of Children Committee, is chaired by professor Sarah Sullivan of Florida Coastal School of Law. Longtime child advocate Mary Brennan of Jacksonville Area Legal Aid serves as vice chair.
The committee continues to focus on issues concerning children in the dependency system, attorneys ad litem, representation, children transitioning out of foster care and independent living.
The committee will look to join with others working on these issues statewide, including The Florida Bar's Legal Needs of Children Committee. The goal for the statewide committee is to combine resources from all over the state to educate advocates, including guardians ad litem, attorneys ad litem, social workers, judges, parents' attorneys, etc., to determine what resources exist for minors with special needs, whether it's a child with no disability who is aging out or a child with a disability reaching majority. It will especially focus on educational, medical, psychological and shelter options.
• The Attorney Ad Litem Subcommittee is chaired by Nikki Hawkins. There is no vice chair as it is a standing subcommittee of the Legal Needs of Children Committee. The subcommittee's primary focus and undertaking is to recruit, train and mentor volunteer attorneys to accept attorney ad litem appointments by the Juvenile Court in juvenile dependency cases.
The inaugural training in 2012 "graduated" more than 30 volunteer attorneys ad litem and the second training is in the planning stages, hopefully for this year.
To further support this court-requested project and provide networking for trained attorneys ad litem, the subcommittee also holds regular "Lunch-n-Learns" at Florida Coastal. Several were held in 2012 and the next is scheduled for Tuesday, with another in March.
The subcommittee also is working with the Juvenile Court to simplify and streamline the attorney ad litem appointment process. It also helps keep attorneys ad litem aware of CLE and other educational opportunities available to them, whether they be through the subcommittee, The JBA, the Juvenile Court, or other means.
The subcommittee plays a vital role in enabling competent legal representation for children in state care.
• The Protecting Our Children Section, in collaboration with each of the above committees, is exploring a possible children's law CLE seminar in 2013.
The seminar would feature presentations from each of the section's committees, and provide a broad and expansive overview of legal issues affecting children in each of the practice areas encompassed by those committees.
Children are affected directly by legal proceedings in many areas of the law and there frequently is overlap between practice areas. For example, some children in the juvenile delinquency system are also in foster care. Children in the juvenile dependency system typically come from broken homes and families. Foster children whose parents' parental rights have been terminated frequently are available for adoption.
The section's hope is to educate the practitioner, regardless of his or her practice area, as to these many issues and nuances. This is to help prepare the practitioner to deal with them in such a way that we protect our children and minimize further trauma.
If you are interested in joining The JBA Protecting Our Children Section and serving on one of our committees, please contact me directly at [email protected].