Every child should have the opportunity to live, learn and grow up in a safe and loving environment free from abuse. There is no more important work that Legal Aid performs than protecting children and keeping them safe.
Many local children endure the pain and heartache of suffering from abuse, neglect, or abandonment. In Collier County, thousands of reports of maltreatment of children are received annually, with hundreds of child victims confirmed after investigation who are placed into foster care through Dependency Court.
Many other local children not in Dependency are also at risk, including those being raised by non-parental caregivers such as grandparents. Mental health issues, substance abuse, incarceration, or other factors often result in parents being unable to care for their children. There are more than 230,000 children in Florida being raised by relative caregivers, and over 60% of these caregivers have household incomes of less than 200% of Federal Poverty level. The vast majority of these relative caregivers lack formal legal custody of the children they are raising, which renders them unable to enroll children in school, make academic decisions, or authorize necessary medical care.
There is another large group of local children who are not in the Dependency Court system but who live in great danger. These are the children who suffer from domestic violence in their home.
Through generous funding provided to Legal Aid by the Naples Children & Education Foundation, founders of the Naples Winter Wine Festival, Legal Aid provides life-changing, free legal services to hundreds of at-risk children annually through the Legal Aid for Collier Kids Project.
Legal Aid protects at-risk children through the following legal services:
- Representing children in Dependency Court as an Attorney ad Litem by providing a voice for these children and advocating expressly for their interests regarding important issues involving safety, foster placement, unification with parents, medical treatment, and education
- Representing relative caregivers who are raising at-risk children by providing legal services to secure temporary or permanent legal custody, guardianship, adoption, school enrollment, and public or other benefits to provide for basic needs
- Education Legal Rights – see project description for Children with special educational needs and disabilities.