In the 2018 fiscal year, 809 children in the Fourth Judicial District were placed in out of home care. Idaho Statute requires that every Guardian ad Litem (CASA Volunteer), who serves a foster child, must be represented by an attorney. Here in Ada County, Family Advocates recruits, trains, and supports both the volunteer Guardian ad Litem and the volunteer attorney who advocate for the best interests of the child or children involved in the case.
Let me share briefly how amazing our volunteer attorneys are. As of today, our program boasts 60 active attorneys representing the Guardians ad Litem who currently advocate for 251 children. If you do the math, that means the average pro bono attorney represents the Guardian ad Litem for four children. According to our records, our pro bono attorneys spend an average of 10-30 hours each year reviewing Guardian ad Litem reports, filing motions, representing the Guardian ad Litem in court, and other tasks related to legal advocacy. The 10-30 hour figure does not even touch the time they spend telling their friends, colleagues, and the community about the incredible work they do. Many of our pro bono attorneys also serve on committees and advocacy boards around the county to further their advocacy for foster youth outside of the courtroom.
Though our volunteer attorneys are incredible, our program is fighting an uphill battle in representing foster youth. Each year, the number of children in foster care increases, but our volunteer pool cannot keep pace. In an effort to combat the shortage of pro-bono attorneys, we applied for and received a grant through the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) for paid legal support on a contract basis. We are thrilled to announce that we have partnered with the University of Idaho School of Law’s Street Law Clinic for this contract. We are hopeful that this partnership will not only enhance the number of children we are able to represent, but will also provide a conduit for law students to receive child protection education and experience and hopefully become pro bono attorneys upon graduation. We have also partnered with Tyler Williams at Naylor & Hales, who will be supporting our program in the creation of legal templates and other legal advocacy.
These contracts are an incredible step to ensure that no child in our district goes without a voice, but are sadly not enough. In order to serve all of the children our program was appointed to in fiscal year 2017, we would have needed 36 additional attorneys. All that said, if you are any attorney and are interested in supporting our program, we need you. We would love your support to achieve the goal of ensuring every foster child has a voice in court. Please contact Rebekah Grindstaff at Rebekah@familyadvocates.org.