Legal Aid for Collier Kids Project
The Legal Aid for Collier Kids Project (the “Project”) was launched in 2012 when NCEF funded Legal Aid Service of Collier County (“Legal Aid”) to address the large number of unmet critical legal needs of at risk children in Collier County who have been abused, neglected, abandoned, or have special educational needs. The Project transforms the lives of at-risk children using the legal process.
The Project utilizes free legal services to remove at risk children from danger and address their safety, health, well-being and educational needs in four critical categories: (1) children in Dependency and foster care; (2) children being raised by non-parental caregivers in need of legal custody for their support; (3) victims of domestic violence, child abuse, or sexual violence in need of injunctions for protection against abusers and related family law services; and (4) special needs children lacking supports and services at school which are required under law.
1. The role of the Project Attorneys as ‘Attorneys ad Litem’ in Dependency Court:
Attorneys ad Litem advise children of their rights, counsel them on the legal process, and advocate directly for their expressed desires in order to provide them with a voice in the court. Project attorneys are regularly appointed as Attorneys ad Litem by the Court to represent a child, either at the child’s request, the request of one of the other parties in the action (most often the Guardian ad Litem’s office), or on the Court’s own motion, particularly when the Court deems that the child needs a separate and independent attorney.
Issues addressed by the Project Attorneys in Dependency cases:
A sampling of the kinds of issues addressed by Project Attorneys as Attorneys ad Litem includes representation on critical matters including, but not limited to:
- Whether immediate removal from the home is appropriate;
- The use or objection to Court ordered psychotropic medication;
- Whether a group home setting is appropriate;
- Reunification with parents;
- Representing children who have been called as witnesses in criminal cases
related to their dependency actions;
- Visitation with offending parents;
- Foster home settings and the child’s views about the placement;
- Participation in extended foster care.
2. Reasons why children are raised by non-parent caregivers:
There are many reasons that children are being raised by extended family members or close family friends. These reasons can include the following situations which affect the ability of the parents to care for the children: military deployment; employment in other states; divorce; incarceration; deportation; and, substance abuse by one or both parents.
Challenges non-parent caregivers face and how Legal Aid assists them:
Non-parental caregivers face many demands and challenges raising children. These caregivers need legal assistance on many critical matters, including:
*Enrolling children in school
*Consent to necessary medical care, counseling or treatment for the children
*Consent for children to participate in extracurricular activities such as athletics, theater, music and other interests which require consent or release forms
To assist these kinship caregivers in need, Legal Aid provides services to secure:
3. Domestic Violence, Child Abuse, Sexual Violence and Family Law:
Representing non-abusive parents with at-risk children in domestic violence, child abuse, or sexual violence cases and other family law issues.
Children harmed by domestic violence and their non-abusive parents or caregivers often need our help to stay safe and stabilize their lives. Legal Aid provides comprehensive family law services, including, but not limited to:
*Injunctions for Protection (‘IFP’)
*Dissolution of Marriage
*Parenting Plans – including Custody and Visitation
4. Education Legal Rights – for a full description of this component of the Project Click here.
This Project is made possible through generous funding provided to Legal Aid Service of Collier County by the Naples Children and Education Foundation (NCEF), Founders of the Naples Winter Wine Festival.