Law Students Advocate for Abused and Neglected Children
Thursday, May 21 2009
May 21, 2009
Written by Donna Emert
Advocate Training Offered to the Public June 6 and 13
MOSCOW, Idaho – Some 850 children enter the U.S. foster care system daily because it is too dangerous for them to live at home, according to Child Advocates, an organization that mobilizes court appointed volunteers to break the vicious cycle of child abuse.
Making sure abused and neglected children are placed in safe, permanent homes is the mission of the National Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Association. University of Idaho law students serving as Court Appointed Special Advocates are working with the organization in northern Idaho and Washington. Together, they are making a profound difference for children.
“The wonderful thing since we partnered with the University of Idaho Law School is that, in Idaho, we currently have only five cases who do not have a guardian ad litem (guardian at law), and one case – one family – in Washington,” said Lisa Elliott, executive director of the Second Judicial District CASA program. “The University of Idaho has been pivotal in bringing our numbers up from 60 percent coverage to 95 percent coverage of cases. It’s been an amazing partnership.”
The Law School/CASA partnership began in 2005. Currently, 14 Idaho law students are certified to provide GAL services and 11 are assigned to active cases, providing pro bono service to the program. The students meet with their clients – the children – face to face monthly, appear in court on their behalf as needed, are prepared to testify if called, and write a report offering recommendations on whether or not it is in the child’s best interest to return to parents or other guardians.
Marie Callaway is pursuing a juris doctor degree at the University of Idaho with emphasis on natural resource and environmental law. A former teacher, Callaway coordinates the law students working for the program, and serves as an advocate herself. Elliott provides volunteers the requisite 30 hours of initial CASA training, and the 10-12 hours of additional training required annually. Volunteers also are fingerprinted and given background checks.
“Being a law student is one of the most selfish experiences I have ever had,” said Callaway. “To stay on top of your schoolwork, you have to commit an amazing amount of time. I have definitely fallen out of contact with some of the people and activities that are important to me. Becoming a CASA helps put perspective back into life. It reminds me why I decided to come to law school: to become a voice for those that don’t have the same opportunities to be heard as others. That is a very real and very unfortunate aspect of our legal process, and it is one of the reasons pro bono work is so important.”
Elliott is grateful for the help of all CASA volunteers and their commitment to the children they represent. Law students’ training and familiarity with the court system are additional assets, she said.
“Our volunteers sometimes approach the court system with trepidation,” said Elliott. “Law students are more comfortable with the courts, and they have wonderful writing skills. When they put together reports for the judge, it gives the facts, but it also is a very persuasive document that says, ‘this is what should happen in this child’s life,' and if students need to testify they are willing to do it. Having incredible people to represent our children just really gives us a leg up in the judicial system and the child protection system.”
“Being a CASA has made me realize that I want to continue working with and for kids,” said Callaway. “Every child appointed a CASA also has a pro bono attorney assigned to his or her case. After law school, I hope to offer my services in that capacity.”
Elliott will provide CASA training the first two Saturdays in June: June 6 and 13, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the College of Law's Menard Law Building, located near the corner of Sixth and Rayburn Streets on the Moscow campus. Students and others volunteers are welcome. For more information, contact Elliott at email@example.com
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About the University of Idaho
Founded in 1889, the University of Idaho is the state’s flagship higher-education institution and its principal graduate education and research university, bringing insight and innovation to the state, the nation and the world. University researchers attract nearly $100 million in research grants and contracts each year; the University of Idaho is the only institution in the state to earn the prestigious Carnegie Foundation ranking for high research activity. The university’s student population includes first-generation college students and ethnically diverse scholars. Offering more than 150 degree options in 10 colleges, the university combines the strengths of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. For information, visit www.uidaho.edu
Media Contact: Joni Kirk, University Communications, (208) 885-7725, firstname.lastname@example.org
About the University of Idaho
The University of Idaho helps students to succeed and become leaders. Its land-grant mission furthers innovative scholarly and creative research to grow Idaho's economy and serve a statewide community. From its main campus in Moscow, Idaho, to 70 research and academic locations statewide, U-Idaho emphasizes real-world application as part of its student experience. U-Idaho combines the strength of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. It is home to the Vandals, and competes in the Western Athletic Conference. For information, visit www.uidaho.edu