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- 2012 - January - 30th -

Take ‘ONE’ challenge to assist a child

The JBA Adoption Section Co-Chairperson Hope Iseley

The Florida Supreme Court Campaign “ONE” challenges each attorney to take one pro bono case to assist those in need. The slogan for the campaign is “one client, one attorney, one promise.”

As an attorney practicing in child-related matters, I observe on a daily basis that a large number of children are missing basic needs. I suggest that if you have not yet jumped on-board this campaign that you sign up now and make that “ONE” client a child.

In routine dependency proceedings attorneys are present in court for the Department of Children and Families, the Guardian ad Litem and each parent. However, children are rarely ever represented by attorneys or given voices in court for themselves.

If you are like me and your New Year’s resolution was a bust before the first week of the new year came to an end, then please join me in making “ONE” more resolution. Make this the year to assist a child in need.

One kindergarten teacher can assist children with the basic need of education and instill a love of reading in children that will help them throughout their lives.

One caseworker can work late hours to help provide services to families which will keep children safe.

One judge can make it his or her calling to ensure that children do not languish in the foster care system and are provided with something that almost all of us take for granted ... a permanent and loving family.

Although very few attorneys focus on children in their profession, each attorney has the skills, particularly preparation and advocacy, which can also help a child.

Several different ways exist to help children in our legal profession. An attorney ad litem (“AAL”) advocates for the wishes of a child that include the basic needs of a child, such as obtaining medical treatment, proper educational services or a voucher to put clothes on his or her back.

A Guardian ad Litem (“GAL”) represents the best interests of the child which may or may not be the same as the child’s wishes. An attorney may serve as a GAL. The GAL Program has staff attorneys who represent the GAL. However, when a conflict of interest exists, another attorney is needed to represent the volunteer GAL.

Attorneys volunteering through Jacksonville Area Legal Aid (JALA) also assist children with immigration and other services. Although these legal services do not usually require a large time commitment, in many cases an attorney’s services are able to impact a child for life.

A much greater time and life commitment to assist in the dependency area is to open your home to “ONE” foster child or sibling group. Every year thousands of children live in fostercare in Florida.

Although the North Florida area has many wonderful foster parents who are able to provide enormous love and care for each child in their home no matter how many children are placed with them, some foster homes are not serving the needs of our children.

Approximately seven years ago when our son first arrived at our home at the age of 3 from foster care, he did not respond to his name and we were concerned that he might have a hearing deficiency. When we inquired from the caseworker why he was not responding to his name she replied that he had been in a foster home with many children, he was referred to as “Boy” and probably did not know his name.

When I took him for his first doctor’s visit the doctor inquired if he had recently been in a Third World country given his health condition. Although we have our challenges as with all children, whether biological or adopted, he has since become a healthy and loving member of our family.

No matter which manner you wish to assist “one” child, you will not be alone. Many other attorneys practicing in the child-related services are available to mentor and assist.

To become an attorney ad litem (AAL), please contact Connie Byrd, chairperson for The Jacksonville Bar Association Special Needs of Children Committee at connie@lawbyrd.com or (904) 731-0990.

To become a pro bono attorney for a guardian ad litem (GAL), please call Carrie McClain-Knight (904) 630-1200.

To assist JALA in serving the needs of children, please contact Kathy Para at kathy.para@jaxlegalaid.org.

To become a foster parent and/or adopt a child from foster care, please contact Family Support Services of North Florida at (904) 421-5800.

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