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Innovations in Lawyer Engagement in Child Welfare Proceedings and Systemic Reform American Bar Association Children & the Law Conference May 2009 Nebraska.

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Presentation on theme: "Innovations in Lawyer Engagement in Child Welfare Proceedings and Systemic Reform American Bar Association Children & the Law Conference May 2009 Nebraska."— Presentation transcript:

1 Innovations in Lawyer Engagement in Child Welfare Proceedings and Systemic Reform American Bar Association Children & the Law Conference May 2009 Nebraska Appleseed Center for Law in the Public Interest Sarah Helvey, J.D., M.S. LaShawn Young, J.D. Core Values. Common Ground. Equal Justice.

2 Roadmap Background on Nebraska Appleseed History of Child Welfare System Accountability Program The Foster Care Reform Legal Resource Center

3 Nebraska Appleseed Nebraska Appleseed was founded in 1996 A statewide non-profit, nonpartisan public interest law firm Mission: To achieve systemic change for low-income and underrepresented Nebraskans Work: class action litigation, impact litigation, public policy advocacy, community outreach & education Staff: lawyers, social workers, community organizers, technical support/webmaster, administrator, law clerks & volunteers The Appleseed Network

4 Program Areas Low-Income Self-Sufficiency Immigrant Integration and Civic Participation Child Welfare System Accountability Health Care Access Access to Justice Building Democracy

5 Child Welfare System Accountability Program Created in 2003 to address systemic failures in the Nebraska child welfare system Highest rate of children in out-of-home placement per capita in the country Number of high profile child deaths in foster care Caseworker caseloads in some areas 3x national standard Lowest foster care rate in the country

6 Child Welfare System Accountability Program Goal: To protect the legal rights of children in foster care and to work for lasting and meaningful reform of the system. Policy and litigation Use legal advocacy to support and complement highly needed reform initiatives

7 Carson P. et al. v. Heineman In 2005, after two years of thorough investigation, filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of the then over 6,700 children in Nebraska’s foster care system The lawsuit alleged that the Nebraska child welfare system violated the constitutional and statutory rights of its foster children by: leaving children in state custody too long, overusing institutional care, moving them too frequently and to inappropriate placements, overcrowding in foster homes, allowing placement in emergency shelters and temporary placements for long periods of time, and placing infants and other very young children in emergency shelters. Motion for class certification denied and motion to dismiss granted, Jan. 2007, Judge Kopf Adopted Magistrate Judge Piester’s Aug. 2006 Report & Recommendation Positive outcomes

8 The Foster Care Reform Legal Resource Center (Legal Resource Center or LRC) An Effective Model for Systemic Change in Nebraska

9 Established in 2007

10 What is the LRC? A resource created to assist child welfare attorneys in raising systemic issues A resource with the goal of engaging attorneys as a powerful force in developing cases that result in positive change for Nebraska’s foster care children

11 Why the LRC? Able to engage child welfare attorneys across the state which creates a powerful force in the effort to promote real change within the child welfare system Is a resource unlike any other in Nebraska Realizing that reform of the child welfare system requires a collective efforts of attorneys asserting the rights of children in the effort to reform the system

12 How does the LRC work with attorneys? The LRC develops resources available to child welfare attorneys The resources created by the LRC are relevant and useful to attorneys in their day-to-day practice

13 LRC Tools Listserv Foster Care Update Policy Brief Series Juvenile Document Bank Outreach Direct assistance to attorneys including research, the development of amicus briefs, case intervention

14 Listserv The Pulse of the LRC Allows attorneys to share ideas and successful strategies utilized in juvenile court cases Current membership of 188 attorneys Membership is limited to parent attorneys, foster parent attorneys, and guardians ad litem Provides the LRC with valuable information to help shape Appleseed’s policy agenda

15 Listserv, the pulse Provides an avenue for attorneys to raise awareness of systemic issues that may be occurring in various parts of the state Problems with reasonable efforts raised through the listserv Attorneys provided strategies that they had successfully used to challenge the state’s actions in adequately making reasonable efforts

16 Foster Care Update Effectively communicating current and relevant information to attorneys 23 released Highlights a policy issue Gives a summary of current cases Provides information on state and federal legislation

17 Foster Care Update Amanda C. v. Case, 275 Neb. 277,749 N.W. 2d 429 (2008). Nebraska Supreme Court Raised the issue of a child’s reciprocal right to a relationship with their parent Policy Spotlight for July 2008 Encouraged attorneys to think broadly on the issue of children’s constitutional rights

18 Direct Assistance to Attorneys 37 intakes from attorney member and non- members Attorney may need research assistance Some intakes turn into case involvement An intake from Legal Aid provided an opportunity for involvement through an amicus brief

19 Direct Assistance to Attorneys In re Interest of Walter W., 274 Neb. 859,744 N.W.2d 55 (2008). LRC argued that the active efforts requirement in ICWA is a higher and different standard than reasonable efforts Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s finding that the state had provided active efforts Nebraska Supreme Court articulated that active efforts requires more than reasonable efforts and some culturally relevant component

20 Other Resources Policy Brief Series Purpose to highlight an issue relative and important to practitioners Inaugural brief- Relative Placement in Nebraska LRC received concerns from attorneys regarding the lackluster efforts of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (NDHHS) in placing children with relatives as opposed to non-relative foster homes LRC researched and provided this information to attorneys in a policy brief

21 Other Resources The second policy brief to be released is Reasonable Efforts in Nebraska This issue also came to the attention of the LRC through our listserv members This brief will provide information to attorneys on the background, law in Nebraska and other jurisdictions, and successful strategies

22 Other Resources The newest resource to the LRC- the Juvenile Document Bank (document bank) Provides example documents of pleadings used by attorneys in abuse/neglect cases Provided through our website Sample documents donated by child welfare attorneys Document bank will also include briefs

23 Ultimate Goal of the LRC These tools are used by the LRC to engage the most important resource- child welfare attorneys engaged in the day-to-day practice of law We are confident that this model can be successfully duplicated in any state We believe that the creation of these tools along with engaged attorneys ensures that the LRC meet the challenge of the federal court to seek widespread reform through individual cases

24 Nebraska Appleseed Center for Law in the Public Interest Sarah Helvey LaShawn Young 941 “O” Street, Suite 920 Lincoln, NE 68508 (402) 438-8853 Core Values. Common Ground. Equal Justice

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