We are pleased to be able to share with you a post by our first guest blogger, Jill M. Katz. Ms. Katz is a sole practitioner in the area of Family Law in Kansas City, Missouri. She is a frequent lecturer in the areas of mediation, family and juvenile law. She is currently the Chair of the Missouri Bar Juvenile Courts and Law Committee and in her second term on the Executive Counsel of the Missouri Bar Family Law Section. She was recently honored as the 2014 Volunteer Attorney of the Year by Jackson County CASA.
by Jill M. Katz
The law in Missouri makes reunification with parents the focus in the majority of cases filed alleging abuse or neglect. While children are in foster care, their foster parents provide for their needs. CASA and other Guardians ad Litem advocate for the child client to ensure all of their needs are met. The needs of the child go beyond ensuring that the child has the right therapist, dental and doctor appointment or has appropriate school resources. One of the most important needs the child has is for the parent to remedy the cause of the removal of the child. That means that the Guardian ad Litem must also ensure that the entire family has their needs met. The advocate must consider what may be needed for the child to safely return home to their biological family. The advocate then must work just as hard to ensure that the tools are provided to the parents so that if/when reunification occurs, the reunification will be successful.
A parent’s attorney works at the direction of a parent. The parent’s attorney cannot ethically ask the Court to order their parent client to engage in services, unless the parent allows the attorney to ask for those services. That is the attorney’s job – asking for what the parent wants to occur. Consider this, if no one asks for the parents to engage in services directed toward reunification, months may go by and appropriate services are not even offered. Six months after adjudication of the abuse or neglect, suddenly the parent wants to engage in services. While that is great, you have lost six months of services. Identification of appropriate services and asking for participation in these services, and possibly even getting a court order for the services, may encourage the parent to engage early in the process. Engagement in the process by the parent early in the litigation will lead to a greater chance of successful and timely reunification. As time passes and the parent who was offered appropriate services fails to provide evidence that the child can safely reunify, then the child is in a position to move toward permanency. The offering of appropriate services from the beginning of the case now becomes an element that will help achieve timely permanency for the child.
This kind of advocacy takes commitment to the process. It takes commitment to ensuring that laws are followed. It takes commitment to identify the right service provider and the right type of services that will be needed to provide the parent the ability to learn to provide a safe and stable home for the child.
Nothing a Guardian ad Litem does will ensure that a parent will accept and utilize the tools that are made available to them to aid in reunification with their children. But if the Guardian ad Litem has advocated for the provision of these services, the child either gains a parent who provides a safe and stable home, or acquires facts that will allow for a permanent placement sooner rather than later.
The bottom line is that advocacy for a child is advocacy for the family. And advocacy does matter.