Article Source: The New Haven Register – Tuesday 11th, 2005
Lawyers’ group helps kids with legal needs
Michelle Tuccitto Sullo , Register Staff
A 6-month-old baby with a broken arm. An 8-year-old boy whose father
committed suicide. An infant born addicted to cocaine.
These are examples of children whose abuse and neglect cases have ended
up in the state’s Juvenile Court system. Each needed a lawyer to
help them, and volunteers in the legal community came forward.
Kevin Dean, whose law firm is based in Hamden, is just one of the lawyers
volunteering to help through Lawyers for Children America.
His first case involved the neglect of a 6-month-old baby, whose arm
was broken when she apparently fell from the sink during a bath.
"One of the reasons I went to law school was to try to help people,"
Dean said. "Being a dad and having a child myself, I realize how
important it is to make sure children are protected. There are never enough
attorneys to handle all the cases."
Lawyers for Children America is looking for more lawyers to get involved
with pro bono work to represent abused and neglected children in the legal
system. A special one-day training session is planned for this fall.
In Dean’s neglected infant case, foster parents eventually adopted
"At first, she wouldn’t make eye contact and would hide,"
Dean said. "The last time I saw her, she came up to me and was telling
me stories. It was a tremendous difference."
Claudia Maxwell, program director, said there are about 200 active volunteers
statewide, but more are needed.
"We had to ask the court to slow down assignments, because we don’t
have enough volunteers to handle all the cases," Maxwell said.
The national, nonprofit, Hartford-based Lawyers for Children America
started in 1994. It recruits, trains and supports volunteer lawyers.
The children they represent include victims of physical and sexual abuse,
neglect and abandonment, Maxwell said.
Volunteers help find permanent placements for children and help assess
their medical and mental health, and educational, emotional and legal
needs. The goal is for lawyers to help minimize further trauma, while
taking time to build a relationship with a child.
Carla Stover, a clinical psychologist at the Yale Child Study Center,
helps train lawyers for the program and teaches them about the effects
of trauma on children and how to advocate on their behalf.
"Often, these children are traumatized in many ways," Stover
said. "The training helps the attorneys think about what the child
really needs now. The program is important, and we need attorneys who
are well-trained advocates for children, who need to be represented in
these cases too."
Most cases in Juvenile Court go to contract lawyers, who are paid, according
to Maxwell. In the program she handles, about 2 percent of children are
assigned to pro bono lawyers, who only get one or two cases.
"This way, they can go see the kids and spend time with them,"
The lawyers help find stable homes for the children, like the case of
an 8-year-old boy whose father committed suicide. The child’s attorney
found a relative through marriage willing to take him in, according to
"He was craving family, and now he is with his cousins and is thrilled,"
Robert Hinton, a lawyer and chairman of the pro bono committee of the
New Haven County Bar Association, has handled two cases for the program,
including one involving an infant girl born addicted to cocaine, and one
in which a 7-year-old girl missed 44 days of school.
Hinton said the infant’s parents were able to get help for their
drug problem and turn their lives around, and the 7-year-old has only
missed one day so far this school year. He credited the social worker
handling the case for the school-age child’s improvement.
"This is a great venue for lawyers who want to get involved,"
Hinton said. "Some of these cases do have a good ending. People make
mistakes and get their lives back in order."
Phil Kent, a lawyer in Hamden, represented four children who had been
missing a lot of school. The children are now doing well academically
and thriving with their new guardians, their grandparents, according to
"The last time I saw them, they were all showing off their camp
photos and smiling," Kent said. "I was very happy with the result.
I don’t think attorneys in general do enough of this kind of work."
Judge Bernadette Conway, the presiding judge at Juvenile Court in New
Haven, said the program has a positive impact on children.
"We are always looking for people willing to donate time,"
Conway said. "These are children in desperate need, often coming
from very depressing and sad situations. I know these lawyers go far beyond
the call of duty. Since they have only one case, they can give it a lot
The next training session is at 8:45 a.m. Nov. 11 at the law firm of
Wiggin & Dana, One Century Tower, New Haven. The training is free,
but lawyers are expected to accept one pro bono case appointment.
Contact Claudia Maxwell at (860) 273-0654 or email@example.com