Separating from parents is typically the first hurdle many foster kids go through, they also have to go through court proceedings; oftentimes without any legal representation.
Up until the last legislative session, Nevada was one of few states that didn’t provide legal representation for kids in foster care, but that changed shortly after representatives from Legal Aid of Southern Nevada and several foster kids took a trip to Carson City to make a plea.
Stephanie was one of those foster kids.
“I had issues with my parents,” Stephanie said. “They were not able to properly take care of me. Everyone has a different story.”
Stephanie’s story, went all the way to the state legislature, ultimately helping hundreds of kids who are in the position as her.
“CPS got involved,” she said. “It wound up being a fight between where I would stay, and where my brothers would stay.”
Stephanie was removed from her parents for the second time after allegations of abuse.
Typically, the first step after a child is removed from their home and placed in foster care. The goal is to eventually reunite the child with his or her parents, but in Stephanie’s case, that wasn’t what she felt was best.
She was 14 years old when she found herself pleading her case alone without any legal help. She said she spoke up, but It felt like it was falling on deaf ears. “Because I was a kid, I didn’t know what I was doing ... what I was talking about.”
Then Denise Glasgow was appointed to her through The Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada. Glasgow worked to help Stephanie get what she wanted, which was guardianship through her grandmother.
She said the eight-month legal battle seemed to fly by with Glasgow’s assistance.
“One day she told me, that she was never used to feeling safe,” Glasgow said. “It was weird to her that the couch wasn’t pushed up against the door. Being able to do that for her was amazing.”
Glasgow also helped ensure that Stephanie’s younger siblings would always stay in her life. All three kids were removed from the home, however Stephanie’s twin brother and sister went to their biological father, who was Stephanie’s step-father.
“That was a big issue for me." Stephanie said. “In my opinion, I helped raise them all the way from birth.”
Stephanie’s story was heard in court, but there are hundreds of foster kids still waiting for their voices to be heard.
That is why Legal Aid is making a call to valley attorneys to take on at least one foster child’s case pro bono.
Eighty-five percent of foster kids have legal representation, but about 230 kids don't. Legal Aid set a goal to get all kids legal representation by the end of the year.
“These kids deserve to have a voice in the process,” Barbara Buckley, Executive Director of Legal Aid of Southern Nevada said. “They deserve to have a stake in what happens to them.”
Any attorney interested in helping close the gap, or who knows someone who does, can learn more about the Children’s Aid Project at Legal Aid online.
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