Useful Tools for Juvenile Practice

Posted on | January 4, 2012 | No Comments | megbishop

I am leaving my firm on January 10, 2012 to start my own practice. As I have been preparing to train my replacement, I have had an opportunity to reflect on how I started in this area and think about the things I wished I had when I was first hired in March 2009.

In law school, I took a juvenile law course, but it really did not provide me with the practical understanding I required to be able to advocate for my clients effectively. Looking back, I taught myself how to be a juvenile lawyer – I had to read the cases, the guides, talked to more experienced attorneys to even start to begin how to understand how all the different pieces fit together. In prepping for my replacement, I have gone back to those more experienced attorneys for advice on what knowledge and training I should give her in the short time I have with her. The response is to give general advice, but she really is just going to have to practice it on a day-to-day basis to get “it.” Which, is true, frustrating, but true.

I have been also told that upon my departure, I need to pass on all my motions and other legal writings to me peers. They are forthcoming, I promise!

In the meantime, I thought it would be helpful for me to share what I keep on my desk and what information I provide to parents when we first meet.

First, I have a general guidebook that I titled “Juvenile Law Representation” This is my general guide for best practices in representation of parents and children. It contains the following documents:

OSB Juvenile Law Practice Standards
ABA – Advocating for Very Young Children in Dependency Proceedings
NACC – Recommendations for the Representation of Children
Conflicts of Interest in Representing Children
YR&J – A Family’s Guide to the Child Welfare System
OSB Formal Ethics Opinion 2005-159 – Requesting a Guardian ad Litem in Juvenile Dependency Cases
Guardians Ad Litem for Parents in Dependency and TPR Cases
Reasonable Efforts to Reunify in Dependency Cases [in Oregon]
CRB Outline

Second, I have a notebook called “Resources for Parents and Youth.” It contains information for parents and children on service providers. With the significant reduction in state funds available to DHS to provide services I have found that more and more the onus is placed on my clients to seek out and pay for the necessary service providers. This allows me to quickly access contact information for providers in the area that I can then copy and give to my clients. It includes information on parenting classes, drug and alcohol treatment providers, domestic violence treatment for both victims and perpetrators, counseling, as well as the list of employers that hire individuals with felonies on their records. I update it as I obtain information regarding a new provider.

My third notebook contains a phone list for each of the law firms and the DHS office. It is the book I go to most often and I would be lost without it. We update it every couple of months.

In addition to my internal resources, I provide resources to parents when I first meet them. Youth, Rights and Justice developed a wonderful guide (linked above) for parents on how this process works (I just wish they also had a Spanish version). The first time I meet a client, usually at the shelter care hearing, I provide them a folder with this guide. In addition to the guide, I provide them with my business card, a contact page, which gives them information on how to get a hold of me, who my assistant it, what our office hours are and who the PS worker is. The next page is for the next court dates and has space for me to write in what I need the client to do prior to the next hearing – meeting with me is ALWAYS there. A release of information is also included so I can start getting sensitive records immediately after court appointment.

In addition to the material I give to my client, I have an internal intake sheet that ensures I obtain all the necessary information to be able to adequately represent the client at the shelter hearing and thereafter – current address and phone number, ICWA/RCWA, any prior family law matter involving the children, that I reviewed the petition, family or friends that could be placements or supervisors and information the client wants me to know including witnesses and service providers. I base a lot of my questions to the client off the CCC Benchcard. This has streamlined the process greatly and allowed me to obtain a substantial amount of information during the short time I have with my clients prior to the shelter hearing.

Contact Information
Court Dates
Internal Intake Sheet

At the end of the shelter hearing, I fill in the next court dates for my client, take the summons and petition and put it in the folder and instruct my client to review everything before meeting with me again and to bring the folder to every meeting. I find that it is helpful for them to have something tangible when they leave court – especially since the whole process of a shelter hearing is scary, emotional and difficult for individuals not involved in the system to understand. The next time I see my client, one of the first questions I ask is if they read the guide and more often than not they have and we are then able to better converse about the dependency process and in turn create better plans for their family.

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