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.