In 1978, the American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law (“the Center”) was formed through a grant from the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect. The ABA YLD has been involved with the Center since its inception and has supported its reforms and initiatives in child-related law.
The Center Through the Years
In 1979, the Center held its first national conference on advocating for children in the courts and awarded its first mini-grant to support state or local bar child-related activities. In 1981, the Center created and published the first national litigation manual on the handling of child abuse and neglect cases for judges. The Center went on to publish numerous additional resources, including books on parental interstate and international kidnapping, a treatise on the legal rights of children, and the country’s first major foster care legal reform book.
In 1987, the Center started the ABA Permanency Barriers Project, which was designed to speed up the process of moving children through the foster care system into permanent homes, providing kids with the stable family environment they need, while saving essential foster care dollars. The project began in New York and has since been implemented in other states, winning the Department of Health and Human Services Adoption Excellence Award in 2005. By helping states to analyze and identify delays, develop recommendations and implement reform, establish written procedures and provide training, monitor changes and share results, ABA project directors have been able to assist states to reform their foster care systems, reducing the average time a child spends in the system and, as a result, earning a financial savings as well.
Through a grant from the U.S. Children’s Bureau in 1995, the Center began to operate The National Child Welfare Resource Center on Legal and Judicial Issues, which “provides consultation, training, and technical assistance on all legal and judicial aspects of the child welfare system, including federal law, court improvement, agency and court collaboration, permanency planning, legal representation, and other emerging child welfare issues” ( www.americanbar.org/groups/child_law/what_we_do/projects/rclji/aboutus.html). The Resource Center has remained a major focus of the Center on Children and the Law and continues to be its single largest project.
The Center has continued to expand over the years, providing assistance and resources in a wide variety of areas including juvenile status offense reform and advocacy, disaster planning child welfare law, improving involvement of noncustodial fathers in the child welfare system, parent representation, permanency for adolescents in foster care, and parental involvement practices in juvenile court.
The Center is currently involved in a number of important projects, ranging from providing grants for closed circuit and recording technology to improving the outcomes for LBGTQ children in the foster care system. The Closed-Circuit Television and Recording Technology Grant Program helps to provide funding for equipment to be used to record and transmit testimony and interviews of children in abuse cases. In using this technology, the hope is that the trauma of speaking about their abusive experiences will be minimized. The Center provides grants, as well as monitors the program, and provides technical assistance.
Another initiative, The Open Doors Project, increases awareness of LGBTQ children in the foster care system, the issues these children face, and how to successfully represent their interests, as well as educating the children about their rights. Project staff provides assistance in a variety of ways, such as training, published resource materials, and help in developing action plans.
The Center conducts a training program on trial skills for child welfare attorneys. This one-day program combines lectures, demonstrations, and a practical mock trial component, to help attorneys develop strategies for their cases, enhance their skills in examining witnesses, and organize their large case loads while preparing for trial.
National Reunification Month
June marked the celebration of National Reunification Month. Across the country, states held events to commemorate the reunifications of families and the lawyers, judges, volunteers, and professionals who played a role in bringing those families back together. Events ranged from fun-filled picnics to educational panel discussions to events that combined both instructive and entertaining aspects. The road to reunification is often not an easy one, and it is important to highlight the stories of parents who have been able to successfully reunite with their children, either after the involvement of child services agencies or after a period of incarceration. Examples of last year’s National Reunification Month celebrations include:
- In New York, the Bronx Defenders’ Family Defense Practice held a three-hour event, which included refreshments, games for the kids, and recognition for the parents, who received certificates for their commitment to keeping their families together.
- New Jersey’s reunification ceremony celebrated the successes of families that were reunited after the involvement of DYFS. A panel of experts was present, including judges, parent advocates, and service providers, to speak not only on the importance of reunification, but also on the resources and commitments necessary to a successful reunification.
- Florida’s celebrations took place across the state, with counties arranging their own events, ranging from picnics to celebrations at the local courthouse with the families and the guardians ad litem who assisted them.
For additional information on National Reunification Month, tips for planning a successful reunification celebration, or to learn what other states have done to hold reunification events, visit www.americanbar.org/groups/child_law/what_we_do/projects/nrd.html. The Center also seeks nominations for Reunification Heroes, those parents, youths, volunteers, judges, attorneys, or case workers, whose efforts made reunifications possible. Heroes can be nominated online on the Center’s webpage.
Child Advocacy Award
Each year, the ABA YLD, in conjunction with the Center, recognizes one young lawyer and one other for their dedication to service on behalf of children with the Child Advocacy Award. Any judge or lawyer who is involved with child advocacy is eligible to be nominated for this award, which will be bestowed on those who demonstrate personal achievement and commitment to advocating on behalf of children. The nomination deadline for this award is April 30 of each year. The next Child Advocacy Awards will be presented at the ABA Annual Meeting in Chicago. Information about this award and its past winners can be found at www.americanbar.org/groups/young_lawyers/awards_scholarships/child_advocacy_award.html.
For more information about the Center, the resources it provides, and the important work it does on behalf of children and the law, visit www.americanbar.org/ groups/child_law.html.