October 20, 2016 – The Juvenile Advocacy Project’s mission is to provide multi-forum free legal representation and advocacy for children in Palm Beach County, ages 0-18. The Project represents children who are economically depressed and are involved in the court system in either dependency, delinquency, family or mental health matters.
The project started in October 1991 with three attorneys and one paralegal. Now, led by Supervising Attorney Bill Booth, it is a staff of seven, which includes staff attorneys Allyson Gaiser, Drew Hanley, Nazli Matt, and Cassandra Ward and paralegals Dawn Lang and Tara Riddell. It was the first Legal Aid Society program funded by Children’s Services Council and remains funded by the Council today. The Project strives to protect the rights of the children they represent and to make an impact by ensuring that children who are at risk are provided with the evaluations, treatment, community services or legal representation they require.
It is important to the Project that they don’t just identify the problem that faces the children they serve, but give solutions to improve the child’s circumstance. In delinquency cases, where a crime has been committed, their goal is to advocate for a program or service that meets the child’s rehabilitative and educational needs while in custody with, or under supervision of, the Department of Juvenile Justice. As Bob Bertisch states, “more than anybody, these children need someone to speak for them in court and keep them from falling through the cracks of the juvenile justice system.”
In dependency cases, where children have been removed from their homes, the goal is to ensure the child has an opportunity to stay connected to parents, siblings, and extended family whenever possible, have a consistent school placement, and have meaningful services provided in a timely manner that meet the child’s unique needs. They work with schools to ensure the child is receiving the services they require and at-risk children are provided with needed evaluations and treatment. “For the first time since they entered the system, these children finally have their voice in the courtroom. They also have the feeling that there’s someone who cares for them. The lawyers spend time with them to find out what’s going on. It’s the one time the child feels like they have somebody who is there for them and can tell the court what’s going on”, states Bob Bertisch.
The Juvenile Advocacy Project serves at least 230 children a year, often times more. As with many of the other Legal Aid Projects, the Juvenile Advocacy Project faces the challenge of meeting the demands of the community. There are too many cases and not enough attorneys dedicated to this type of work. The project is looking for dedicated attorneys willing to be trained. If you are interested or would like further information, please call Kim Enright at 561-822-9769.