National Symposium on the Legal Representation of Children in Abuse and Neglect Cases

National Symposium on the Legal Representation of Children in Abuse and Neglect Cases

On Friday, February 10, a national symposium developed and co-sponsored by Nova Southeastern University's Shepard Broad Law Center and the American Bar Association Section of Litigation was held to highlight the urgent need for abused and neglected children to have lawyers protect them in all court proceedings. Leading children's rights advocates from Florida and across the country discussed designing strategies for implementing the American Bar Association's (ABA) Model Act on representing children in child welfare cases. The ABA "Model Act Governing the Representation of Children in Abuse, Neglect, and Dependency Proceeding," requires the appointment of a lawyer for every child and youth in abuse or neglect proceedings in which the state has removed the child from the home. The Model Act outlines a set of standards, duties and mechanisms that states can put in place to ensure the provision of high-quality, effective lawyering for children.

To commence the symposium, George L. Hanbury II, President/CEO of Nova Southeastern University, and Athornia Steele, Dean of the Shepard Broad Law Center, stressed the importance of the issue of children's rights and the impact on our communities both locally and nationally.

Expert panelists at the symposium included Shepard Broad Law Center Professor Michael J. Dale and Hilarie Bass, a partner at Greenburg Traurig and former chair of the litigation section of the American Bar Association, who discussed among other topics, designing strategies for implementing the ABA Model Act on representing children in child welfare cases. The agenda sought to increase public awareness of these issues and provide advocates and policymakers with information that can be used to advance state and federal legislative reform. Participants of the symposium included children's lawyers, policy advocates, judges, private lawyers, law school clinicians, professors and law students. For a complete overview of the symposium along with presenter information and topics presented, please click here.

To complement the efforts of the symposium, the Law Center's Nova Law Review will publish a symposium edition which will be available after the event.

In addition to the symposium, there was a press conference on February 9, at Nova Southeastern University's Shepard Broad Law Center. Former foster youths shared their experiences in foster care without legal representation. One youth shared her story of recently aging out of foster care with no permanent adult connections and another shared his story of his placement into the foster care system at age 5 and his adoption. At the press conference Justice Rosemary Barkett, United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit and former Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court, discussed the importance of having lawyers represent abused and neglected children in proceedings; Frank P. Cervone, Executive Director of Child Advocates, gave a national perspective on legal representation of children in cases of neglect and abuse.; Alfreda Coward, executive director and co-founder, One Voice Children's Law Center, discussed Florida's perspective in cases of neglect and abuse and Ron Marmer, Jenner and Block, Chair, ABA Section of Litigation.

According to the advocacy group Child Help, more than 3 million cases of child abuse are reported each year in the United States; in approximately one third of those cases an investigation will show that abuse occurred. With more than 425,000 children in the U.S. foster care system according to Child Welfare Information Gateway, providing lawyers to help foster children navigate the proceedings is critical. Florida received a failing grade in a national report card on states' provision of attorneys for abused and neglected children in dependency cases, A Child's Right to Counsel - A National Report Card on Legal Representation for Children. The state regards the appointment of an attorney for a child in dependency proceedings as discretionary.

For more information on the national right to counsel effort, please contact Shepard Broad Law Center Professor Michael J. Dale or Director of the ABA Section of Litigation Children's Rights Litigation Committee Cathy Krebs.

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