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Children Need a Lawyer

Abused, neglected and abandoned children are removed from their families each day and plunged into an under-resourced and overburdened dependency system that strives to serve their best interests. To be empowered, children need more than just the protection of well-meaning adults; they need a voice in the critical decisions that will decide their future. They need a lawyer to advocate among the courtroom of lawyers representing the many other parties trying to be heard by a judge. The judge needs the child's perspective alongside those of the other parties to determine what the best interests of the child are. When the state has exercised its ultimate power to strip children from their families, children need a champion. Children need a lawyer.

This video can also be accessed via YouTube. Please share this video with colleagues and on your social media sites. 

This video was funded through a partnership between the Section of Litigation and the Rocky Mountain Children’s Law Center and its generous donors Colleen Abdoulah, Kelley Carson and Ernest Sampson, and Steve and Deena Koundouriotis.

To secure a version of this video for PowerPoint presentations, contact Cathy Krebs.

How can you help secure lawyers for all foster youth?

  • Share the 90-second PSA with your friends and colleagues. Even if you are in a state that provides lawyers for children, there are sometimes threats to funding for lawyers than can threaten this right. It is important that people understand why lawyers are important, so if this issue comes up legislatively in their state, they will know to support it.
  • Find your local children’s law center through the ABA Directory of Children’s Law Programs to find out how you can support them. Many centers have programs through which you can volunteer or help their child clients, and you can help these centers with donations to their work.
  • Check out our toolkit (below) to assist advocates in securing a right to counsel in their communities.
  • If your state provides lawyers for children, support changes that help increase the quality of legal representation, such as low caseloads and good training and supervision for children’s lawyers.

Kids Have Rights Too

Judges make best-interest determinations for children. To have complete information, it is essential that every party be represented by lawyers. The state has a lawyer who makes best-interest recommendations, the parents have a lawyer representing their interests, and there is sometimes a CASA or guardian ad litem who makes best-interest recommendations.

So that the judge is fully informed, a child must have representation as well.

Children in state care suffer poor outcomes

  • 47% report being unemployed one year after aging out of foster care.
  • 45.4% report living on food stamps two to three years after aging out.
  • 44.6% (male) and 16.4% (female) former foster children are incarcerated after aging out.
  • 30.7% who grow up in foster care graduate from high school.
  • 27% experience homelessness within a year after aging out of foster care.
  • 3% have a bachelor degree.

Lawyers for children can improve these grim statistics. Lawyers assist in getting children into permanent homes more quickly, as cited in the University of Chicago Chapin Hall report "Expediting Permanency: Legal Representation for Foster Children in Palm Beach County". Lawyers assist children in transitioning from foster care into adulthood safely and successfully. Lawyers assist in securing the appropriate education, sibling contact, medical treatment, appropriate therapy. Through this work lawyers can assist in preventing the poor outcomes faced by many children in state care.  Additionally, children are more likely to accept the outcome of a case—even if it is not what they wanted—if they had a voice in the process through a lawyer. 

A lawyer who is bound by the applicable rules of professional conduct would never advocate on behalf of the minor client going back to an abusive parent under any circumstances. Rule 1.14 mandates that the lawyer act to prevent that result.

“When the state takes a child out of their home and into state custody, it seems to me that every single child that is the main focus of such a process is entitled to a lawyer to represent their rights against the state,” Rosemary Barkett, U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals judge, told members of The Florida Bar Legal Needs of Children Committee. “If you do not protect due process, you don’t have anything else to protect. We cannot leave it to benevolent dictatorship,” Barkett said.

Toolkit for Change

Additional Resources


Cathy Krebs
Manager, Children's Rights Litigation Committee
[email protected]