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  • Lawyers urged to support Challenge for Children

    first_img May 15, 2005 Regular News Lawyers urged to support Challenge for Children Lawyers urged to support Challenge for Children Contributions may be made through The Florida Bar’s annual fee statement For those of us who have ever grumbled about not getting a good night’s sleep, consider, for a moment, the case of Chris.A 17-year-old foster care student, Chris was “placed” on a couch in an office of the Department of Children and Families. Chris had been removed from his parents because of physical abuse and neglect, and had gone through a dozen placements in six years. When legal aid learned Chris had been sleeping in a break room at DCF, it requested an emergency hearing to remove him from his “couch-residence.” 5 p.m. that day, a judge ruled for DCF to find a new placement for Chris — a home that met his basic needs.Thanks to legal aid, Chris is now living with his grandparents, where he has a shower, a bureau for his clothes, and a warm bed.This story is detailed in a letter from Bar President-elect Alan Bookman accompanying the 2005-06 Bar fee statement. In the letter, Bookman asks members to add in a charitable contribution of $45 or more to The Florida Bar Foundation, with payment of their annual Bar fees. The Foundation will dedicate all fee statement contributions to children’s legal services.“Is there a greater responsibility we have in society than to see that our children have every opportunity possible?” Bookman asked.John Thornton, the Foundation’s president-elect designate, said for many it’s difficult to comprehend a child who needs the services of an attorney, yet the need for increased funding for children’s legal services continues to grow.“As members of the legal profession, we already do a great deal for our community, including our pro bono work and contributions to legal aid,” Thornton said. “Yet, every year thousands of low-income children in Florida routinely are denied their legal rights to education, health care, and other services essential for these children to become productive adults.”Additional problems faced by poor children, according to Foundation children’s legal services grantees, include school officials filing criminal complaints against special education children without meeting the requirement to advise law enforcement of their disabilities; parents denied the right to examine and photocopy their child’s school files; and children who do not receive the medical services to which they are legally entitled.Efforts to address the need for children to receive legal services, however, are beginning to receive more attention, Bookman said.“Last year, our Lawyers’ Challenge for Children generated more than $180,000 to fund grants for children’s legal services,” Bookman said. “The Florida Bar Foundation has and will continue to fund annual grants for representation of children out of IOTA funds. But the needs of children stretch well beyond the reach of IOTA funding. The grants provided for children’s legal services by The Florida Bar Foundation help assure that legal assistance will be available to assist and protect the legal rights of Florida’s most vulnerable population.”The Foundation has several goals for its children’s legal services grant program, but emphasizes access to special education required by law and the protection of the legal rights of foster children. For example, for foster children moved repeatedly from one foster home to another, the opportunity for a decent education often is lost. Also, transition training, and related benefits required by law to prepare foster children for independent living as adults, often is denied. Frequently, foster children traumatized by the constant upheaval in their lives, and who suffer from mental health problems, go untreated despite legal requirements that treatment be provided.Thornton said there have been tangible results to funding children’s legal services.“In the special education area, our children’s legal services grantees report that children served by the program show long-term improvement in academic performance and in their behavior,” Thornton said. “It’s too early to report long-term results from our emphasis on foster children, but the cost of failing these children is too high.”Thornton added, “Our chief grantee serving foster children reports that studies show 20 to 40 percent of homeless people used to be foster kids. State prisons are filled with inmates who come from foster care backgrounds.”Thornton said the children’s legal services grant program is one of the Foundation’s most “important and rewarding” efforts.“When our legal aid grantees send in their reports describing the kinds of cases they handle, I’m astounded at the obstacles poor children and their families have to overcome, and I am awed by the lawyers—and the Foundation—that have helped them do so,” Thornton said.“You and I have another opportunity this year to make a difference,” Bookman said. “Please join me in supporting the Lawyers’ Challenge for Children.”last_img read more

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