Focus on Youth and Family

By Kimberly Anderson

The teasing and bullying that takes place between children is frequently dismissed as “kids being kids.” Unfortunately, this type of behavior may lead to more severe harassment and violence. A great way to help children learn about respect and belonging is through the Tolerance Through Education Initiative, which includes the following three programs: “Welcome to School: Helping Kids Belong”; “Playing Together for Peace”; and a discussion for junior high school and high school students regarding hate crimes. This program was developed in 2001 by the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division. The GP|Solo Division has continued to support the “Welcome to School: Helping Kids Belong” program by promoting it on the GP|Solo website ( www.abanet.org/genpractice/tolerance).

The program is designed to help lawyers facilitate discussions and promote respect and belonging in third-grade classrooms. Third grade was selected as the target group for this program because this is when children begin to develop the norms that affect the formation of their lifelong values and beliefs. Additionally, this is the grade that students may start to bully and tease classmates who look or act differently.

The “Welcome to School” program is a multifaceted curriculum designed to help lawyers engage third graders in conversations and activities about respect and belonging. It includes a written manual with detailed lessons, integration notes for presenting and debriefing the video clips, and an appendix that contains tools and strategies. An 18-minute video includes several scenarios that challenge students to identify behaviors demonstrating respect and belonging. Lastly, a CD and sheet music of the theme song, “The Child in Me,” are included.

Upon completion of the program, students will develop a value for classroom and school environments that are welcoming and respectful of other students. The program will help them explore norms and influences that affect belonging at school, and it will promote respectful relationships with peers.

A  related initiative supported by the GP|Solo Division has been included in this issue, a Domestic Violence Checklist for Lawyers. Provided to you jointly with the Tort Trial & Insurance Practice Section, the questions listed on the checklist will assist lawyers in screening their clients for domestic violence. Incorporating these questions about domestic violence into the standard intake process will minimize the stigma and encourage disclosure. We encourage you to remove this insert and keep it at your desk to be referenced in the future.

I am sure all of you have had similar experiences that shaped your career path. Now think how contact with the legal system during the impressionable years of childhood can affect children today—not just in their career choices, but their very quality of life. If you have not handled an  adoption for a needy client, served as a child advocate, or undertaken other pro bono work on behalf of children in need, I encourage you to give it a try. With articles on topics ranging from juveniles in the criminal justice system to the rights of minors to matters of divorce, custody, adoption, and foster care, this issue of GPSolo magazine will not only provide you the tools that will help you and thus “Simplify” your practice but will open your eyes to an area of practice that is most rewarding. Please share your childhood experiences with the law “anonymously, if necessary,” by e-mailing me at kmclennan@millerturetsky.com. Your comments could lead to others being energized so that they, too, can experience the overwhelming feeling you get when helping a child in need. 

In addition to the Division’s activities, the ABA features other family- and children-focused areas, including the Commission on Youth at Risk and the Center on Children and the Law.

Karen Mathis, ABA Past President, made it a priority of her term of office to find ways that the legal community and the legal system could better identify and support America’s at-risk young people. She established the ABA Commission on Youth at Risk to undertake a year-long effort to identify the challenges facing this population, particularly youth aged 13 through 19. The Commission works to enhance laws, judicial intervention strategies, policies, practices, and programs intended to prevent teens from becoming delinquent or engaging in criminal acts. There are a number of resources on the Commission’s website ( www.abanet.org/youthatrisk) regarding ABA youth policies.

Finally, the Center on Children and the Law was established in 1978 by the ABA Young Lawyers Division. The Center is a full-service technical assistance, training, and research program addressing a broad spectrum of law- and court-related topics affecting children. These include child abuse and neglect, adoption, adolescent and infant/toddler health, foster and kinship care, juvenile status offenders, custody and support, guardianship, missing and exploited children, and children’s exposure to domestic violence. You can find out more at the Center’s website ( www.abanet.org/child/home.html).

GP|Solo and the ABA have many resources for lawyers and the public to let them help in the areas of juvenile justice and child welfare. Please take the time to make a difference and learn more about these opportunities. 

Kimberly Anderson is Staff Director of the ABA General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division. She may be reached at 312/988-5636 or Kimberly.Anderson@americanbar.org.

Copyright 2008

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