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Jax Daily Record Monday, Nov. 28, 201612:00 PM EST

Pro bono spotlight: Parents, children volunteer attorneys to help through 'Youth on Solid Ground' project

by: Kathy Para

The Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division and The Jacksonville Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Section have launched the Youth on Solid Ground Pro Bono Project to assist children and their families.

Temporary relative custody and guardian advocacy are the two legal mechanisms that can help ensure Florida children can enjoy the stability of having committed family members authorized to act on their behalf.

They provide family stability for children and make a positive difference in their lives and –– equally important ––  these opportunities provide attorneys who volunteer time and expertise practical training in the courtroom and experience in uncontested matters.

Due to limited budget resources, legal services staff attorneys must focus on more critical and complex legal matters, such as cases involving domestic violence, foreclosure defense, bankruptcy, housing and discrimination.

The project provides assistance for families that are unrepresented in the areas of guardian advocacy and temporary relative custody.

Families with disabled children also face many challenges.

For low-income families, those challenges can jeopardize the safety and financial stability of the whole family and they do not disappear when the child becomes an adult.

Guardian advocacy can relieve some stress and eliminate some obstacles in cases that involve a disabled family member.

As disabled children age into adulthood, parental status no longer equates to legal authority to act on the adult child’s behalf. With a guardian advocacy judgment in place, the parent is authorized to continue to advocate for his/her child to help ensure safety and needed health care.

It means the adult child is “on solid ground” when education, housing and health issues require an advocate.

In many families, parents are not able to care for and act on behalf of their children. There are many reasons for this, such as a parent being disabled, dealing with an illness, on military deployment or incarcerated.

Children rely on loving adults to grow and thrive. With a temporary relative custody order in place, children have an extended family member, often a grandparent, aunt, uncle or older sibling, who can ensure the child’s needs are met.

It means the child is “on solid ground” when education, housing and health issues require an advocate.

Since last year, 14 attorneys have volunteered to participate in the program. Their advocacy has meant families with disabled children had champions to help them through a very confusing process.

Attorneys are encouraged to get involved, get some valuable experience and assist a family in need.

For more information on the youth project and other opportunities in the 4th Judicial Circuit, contact [email protected].

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