Legal Aid for Collier Kids
The “Legal Aid for Collier Kids” Project was launched on July 1, 2012 – thanks to extremely generous funding from the Naples Children & Education Foundation, Founders of the Naples Winter Wine Festival. The Legal Aid for Collier Kids Project is dedicated solely to meeting the legal needs of children in Collier County who have been victimized by exposure to domestic violence, abuse, abandonment, or neglect. The Project promotes the safety and well being of at-risk children through legal remedies – such as Injunctions for Protection against Domestic or Sexual Violence. The Project Attorney also represents the parent-victims of domestic violence, and other caregivers as needed, to obtain Custody and Support to promote the stability of the children.
- Education Legal Rights
- Injunctions for Protection against domestic violence and sexual abuse
- Court appointments as Attorney Ad Litem representing children in Dependency
- Chapter 751 temporary custody, kinship, and power of attorney orders
- Dissolution of marriage (divorce), child custody and child support
Scope of Services
The Legal Aid for Collier Kids’ Project operated by Legal Aid Service of Collier County (“Legal Aid”) addresses a dangerous ‘gap in services’ in Collier County to meet the critical legal needs of children who have been victimized by exposure to domestic violence, abuse, abandonment, or neglect. Legal Aid is the only provider of these kinds of free direct legal services to these ‘at-risk’ children in Collier County.
The Project has made an immediate and substantial impact in promoting the safety, stability and overall well being of ‘at-risk’ children in Collier County. This Project has been designed – in consultation with partner agencies – to be flexible to ensure the ultimate goal of promoting the safety and stability of the children served.
The type of legal assistance rendered under the Project is prioritized based on the level of emergency posed to the children. Legal assistance provided under the project includes obtaining Injunctions for Protection against Domestic Violence or Sexual Abuse. Injunctions for Protection are often needed on an emergent basis as a first step to secure immediate safety and stability where an abusive situation exists.
The Project Attorney may also seek legal Custody (or Powers of Attorney) for relatives or non-relatives who are the immediate caregivers to children who have been exposed to domestic violence, abuse, abandonment, or neglect and who fall outside of the Dependency Court system. Many of these loving caregivers (including grandparents, aunts, uncles, older siblings, and family friends) are raising the children but cannot enroll children in school or make academic decisions, or approve of necessary and even emergent medical care – without legal Guardianship or Custody status over the children.
Outside of the Dependency Court system, many of these children continue to be ‘at-risk’ until these caregivers can legally make vital decisions of utmost importance affecting the children.
The Court sometimes directly appoints the Project Attorney to represent children in dependency as an “Attorney Ad Litem.” An Attorney Ad Litem represents the child solely, particularly where the Court deems that the child needs a separate and independent attorney from those representing his or her parents due to a given set of circumstances.
The Project Attorney can also represent the parent-victim of abuse and the parents or caregivers of child victims in Divorce and Custody proceedings. For the long term stability and well being of the child, where a parent seeks to end an abusive relationship with a spouse, securing appropriate Orders of Custody, Support, and Visitation are critical. This legal assistance can end cycles of violence and abuse, and foster a healthy and nurturing environment for the children.
Education Legal Rights
The Children’s Education Legal Rights Unit provides legal representation to students with needs that are not being met in the school system because of a learning disability, physical, mental or emotional disability, other health impairment, or other disabling condition under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The IDEA ensures that all children with disabilities affecting their education have available to them a free and appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment and independent living.
Legal Aid attorneys provide education services that include:
- Assisting students in receiving timely testing, IDEA eligibility determinations, and proper placement
- Ensuring the student receives appropriate and effective special education services in a timely manner
- Attendance and representation of students at individual education plan (IEP) meetings
- Representation at administrative hearings and due process hearings and in litigation when necessary
- Obtaining independent psychological evaluations from professionals outside the school system
- Referrals to outside social service organizations, as appropriate
Legal Aid wants to ensure that children residing in Collier County who are at-risk where their safety or well being is threatened can obtain the legal assistance they need so that they can be safe, and live in a stable, nurturing environment.
Anyone seeking assistance under the Legal Aid for Collier Kids Project should contact Legal Aid at (239) 775-4555 to start the intake process.