Since it's incorporation in 1977, the Support Center for Child Advocates has worked to advocate for victims of child abuse and neglect with the goal of securing safety, justice, well-being, and a permanent, nurturing enviornment for every child. They focus their work in two areas - Direct Representation Services and Child Advocacy Leadership and Training. The Support Center conducts Volunteer Training Workshops for attorneys through their Center for Excellence in Advocacy and Outcomes in Behavioral Health programs and manages important programming such as the Child Safety & Justice Program and the Child Victim Assitance Program.
The following is one lawyer's experience volunteering with Support Center for Child Advocates:
I first volunteered for a case with the Support Center for Child Advocates in 1987. After that case was over, I did not take another case for a long time. In fact, I have been ducking Jodi Schatz, the volunteer director at Support Center for Child Advocates, for almost 20 years. This has not been easy, since she is my wife. One of the reasons I had not volunteered for a case in so long, was that I was no longer practicing law, but running a small business, so I was concerned about my ability to adequately represent a child in need. However, after hearing how many kids in Philadelphia needed lawyers and attending Child Advocates’ training, “How to Handle a Child Abuse Case,” I could not put it off any longer.
My client, Isaac*, is a 17-year-old boy who is up against the system on multiple fronts. While not a native English speaker (English is his third language), he has had to navigate the school system, the foster care system, the healthcare system, the immigration system and the legal system. While interesting and tragic, it is not necessary to talk about Isaac’s back story except to know that he is a recent immigrant, his biological family is out of the picture and he is gay. Because he is an immigrant, he must obtain legal status to stay in the U.S. Fortunately, HIAS (a great organization that provides legal and supportive services to immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers) is helping Isaac with his immigration status. Because he cannot go back to his family, we have been trying to find him a foster home.
Because he is gay, the goal was to find a LGBTQ-affirming home. This was not an easy task, but after a year in a group home (where the average stay is closer to 30 days), Isaac is now with a wonderful family that cares about him. It turns out that my fears of not being qualified to help Isaac were unfounded. Once I stepped into the courtroom as an attorney for the first time in over 20 years, I might have been uncertain as to where to sit or if it was my turn to speak, but my anxiety disappeared. All that mattered was getting the judge to understand Isaac’s needs. It certainly did not hurt that Child Advocates provides every volunteer with a full-day training, including 6.5 hours of CLE credit, and a half-day of courtroom observation, and that they take their name – Support Center for Child Advocates – very seriously. When I have run into a tricky issue in my case, in-house social workers and attorneys have been there to provide support. At the same time, I see how busy they are, so I know that my being on this case, and in Isaac’s life, does make a difference.
Finally, there is no question that my interactions with Isaac, the Child Advocates staff and the court have made a difference in my life, too. Rather than feeling burdened by the time my case takes, there is little in law more rewarding than being able to represent a child who has had the cards stacked against them their whole life – and I even find myself asking what else I can do for Isaac.
*Name changed to protect privacy.