Provide High Quality Legal Representation to Children in Florida’s Child Welfare System:

  • Children are the only party in Chapter 39 dependency cases without attorney representation
  • The child, as a party, needs to have a voice in dependency proceedings like every other party.
  • These positions are consistent with: o The Florida Bar Commission on the Legal Needs of Children

o The proposed legislation to create the Statewide Office of the Children’s Advocate supported by the Florida Bar Standing Committee on the Legal Needs of Children (2009)

We Are Flexible

  • Our main objective is to increase the access to state funded attorneys for children in Florida's dependency system
  • The ideal is statewide attorney representation of dependent children which maximizes the state taxpayer saving through IV-E and CAPTA funding

We Support a Model of Legal Representation based on an Attorney-Client Relationship:

  • We prefer a traditional attorney-client relationship supported by a majority of states.
  • We are willing to accept some hybrid models;
  • The Florida Bar Rules of Professional Conduct must fully apply to the relationship;
  • It is not acceptable to have an intermediary between the attorney and child;
  • We want to eliminate the confusion caused by the term “attorney ad litem” and systemically use the term “attorney for the child;”
  • These positions are consistent with: o The Florida Bar Commission on the Legal Needs of Children

o The proposed legislation to create the Statewide Office of the Children’s Advocate supported by the Florida Bar Standing Committee on the Legal Needs of Children (2009)

We Support Statewide Coordination to Ensure Quality and Training:

  • We want multidisciplinary funding options
  • Funding needs to include options to maintain the existing successful efforts for representation, for example Palm Beach and Broward Legal Aid projects.
  • These positions are consistent with: o The Florida Bar Commission on the Legal Needs of Children

o The proposed legislation to create the Statewide Office of the Children’s Advocate supported by the Florida Bar Standing Committee on the Legal Needs of Children (2009)

We are Not Asking for any Reduction in Funding for the Statewide Office of the Guardian Ad Litem:

  • The Statewide Office of the Guardian ad Litem provides a service that is valued;
  • While a volunteer GAL can be helpful in conveying information to the court,they are lay advocates and not substitutes for trained legal representation.
  • The Guardian ad Litem Program is a separate legal party from the child
  • We are requesting additional advocacy to ensure that the child’s rights are protected and needs are met.

Children's Right to Counsel.

It’s not fair that the child, whose entire life is being affected, is the only person in the courtroom that doesn’t get an attorney.

Unlike the majority of other states, Florida fails to provide victims of abuse abandonment and neglect children with attorneys to protect their rights and expedite their permanency- this Pilot Project will help us head in the right direction.

When courts make life-altering decisions that implicate fundamental rights, due process compels representation. The U.S. legal system is based on the premise that parties have a due process right to be heard and that competent legal representation and fair treatment produce just results.

Children have the most significant interests at stake in the court proceedings that govern every aspect of their lives. The evidence shows that children are best served with their own attorney providing direct representation.

When A Child’s Liberty Is At Stake, Only A Lawyer Can Ensure Due Process, Protect Legal Rights And Zealously Advocate.

  • The state, the GAL, and parents accused of abuse and neglect are all represented by their own attorneys. The child who has to live with the court’s decisions is deprived of that equal protection.
  • Only a lawyer can advise a child about legal rights, legal options, what will happen next in the case and the likelihood of prevailing on stated positions.
  • Only a lawyer can ensure confidentiality of communications – providing a safe person with whom to repose trust.
  • Only a lawyer has a duty of confidentiality, competence, loyalty, counsel and zealous advocacy.

Children who get lawyers do better and spend less time in foster care = cost savings for taxpayers.

  • New Federal Title IV-E funding provides a 50% match to States that provide attorneys for kids which would save Florida taxpayers millions.
  • Research shows that children who get lawyers spend less time in foster care which would save additional millions. Including reductions in child welfare, social services, health care, education and criminal justice costs.
  • Better outcomes and less trauma for child victims is priceless.

For More Information Contact: fosterfairnessflorida@gmail.com