Foster children are in need of representation Fostering Independence is a new program designed to serve underrepresented kids aged 14 to 19 Jan Pudlow Senior Editor Angela Orkin, director of the Florida Guardian ad Litem Program, ran into Florida Bar President Alan Bookman at an airport.They chatted about her challenge in recruiting lawyers to represent abused and neglected children in dependency court.“Anything I can do to help,” Bookman offered before boarding the plane.Orkin took him up on his offer, visiting him at his Pensacola law office, explaining Fostering Independence, a new program designed to serve an underrepresented age group of 14- to 19-year-old foster kids.Bookman agreed to send out brochures in efforts to recruit more attorney guardians and to talk about the project during speaking engagements around the state.“After all the offers of that help, I thought to myself, ‘This is a stretch, but I’m going to do it anyway,’” Orkin recalls with a chuckle.“Let me ask you one more question. Would you take a case?”And the dirt lawyer who has never set foot in dependency court before said, “Yes.”“I have agreed to accept a case, as I feel this is an obligation all attorneys should undertake,” Bookman said.“Pro bono representation of children in difficult circumstances is one of our profession’s highest callings. I’ve never represented a child. Years and years ago, I had some matters in juvenile court. I don’t do any work in that area whatsoever. When we are talking about dependency matters and children’s rights, I think it’s important to be represented by counsel. I will go through the training.”He invites other Florida lawyers to take the plunge.And Orkin assures you that if you, too, say “yes,” plenty of help and convenient training will be provided.Instead of the usual 30-hour training lay volunteers go through, she has streamlined it to eight hours of training on videotape and available on DVDs you can watch from the comfort of your own home. The eight-hour training is free of charge and qualifies for CLE credit and an hour of ethics is included.You won’t be flung out on your own in unfamiliar territory, Orkin assures. You will have the support of the GAL program attorney and social worker.“They will be part of a team,” Orkin said. “The main difference is that attorneys serving as guardians ad litem will be able to draft motions and do legal work. That’s another reason we think it’s a good way to bring attorneys into dependency court, because they will have that support.”Because there are only enough guardians ad litem to represent about half of Florida’s 43,300 abused and neglected foster children in dependency court, the teens “don’t get GALs as much as the younger kids do,” Orkin said.“We recognize this age group is underrepresented,” she said. “Once a kid reaches 13 or 14, the focus is on what is permanency for that child. Are they getting education and independent living skills? Some of these kids don’t want to be adopted. What are they going to do? Are they on track to graduate from high school? Their 18th birthday is coming up. What are we going to do to make sure this child is prepared? So our eight hours of training is based on the needs of these teens,” Orkin said.She noted that this past legislative session the jurisdiction for foster children was extended a year to age 19.“One of the provisions of the Independent Living bill said the court would encourage the GAL program to provide greater representation,” Orkin said.If you are willing to take a case, call toll-free 866-341-1GAL and you will be put in touch with the local GAL program office in your circuit. September 15, 2005 Senior Editor Regular News Foster children are in need of representation
This Saturday morning on Sportsday we react to the latest from the US PGA Championship as Rory McIlroy fails to make the cut at Baltusrol, New Jersey.Novak Djokovic is through to the last four of the Rogers Cup in Toronto while Yorkshire see off Northamptonshire live on talkSPORT 2 to reach the last eight of the Natwest T20 Blast.All that plus the latest from the transfer market, Kenny Jackett’s departure from Wolves and the Rugby League Challenge Cup semi-finals.All brought to you by Russ Hargreaves and the team.