WHAT IS CHILD LAW?
Child law aims to improve children's lives through advances in law, justice, knowledge, practice, and public policy. The field of child law is varied including child abuse and neglect, child welfare and protective services system enhancement, foster care, juvenile justice, education and family law. Child law can be a highly emotional practice as the attorney is advising the client at a difficult time in the client's life. Client counseling that is not limited to legal discussions is often involved. Good people skills are essential as there is often a large amount of client contact.
There are a variety of different positions that an attorney can hold while working directly in the child advocacy field:
- Agency Attorney: These attorneys represent local (and state) child welfare agencies in and out of court during all legal steps of a case. Agency attorneys may work on various issues including: abuse and neglect, termination of parental rights, child support, foster care, administrative hearings, contract review, and other tasks. These individuals work with agency administrators and caseworkers, litigate cases in court, and should be familiar with child welfare statutes, regulations, and policies. Excellent writing and people skills are important with an ability to clearly communicate ideas and concepts.
- Children's Attorney/Guardian ad Litem: These are two different models of representing children: representing the child's wishes v. representing the child's best interests. A Guardian ad Litem model of representation allows the guardian to substitute their judgment for the child's and present what the GAL feels is in the child's best interests even though this may be different from what the child wishes. An attorney in these roles must be knowledgeable about child abuse and neglect issues as well as family or juvenile court procedures. Additionally, the attorney must be comfortable with children and understand developmental and psychological issues for children.
- Parent's Attorney: This type of attorney represents the parent's interests in family or juvenile court and ensures that the parent's due process rights are upheld. An attorney in this role should be familiar with court procedures and have excellent litigation skills. Additionally, it is helpful if the individual is knowledgeable about substance abuse and mental health issues as these are factors in many family court cases.
- Prosecutor: In criminal cases where a child is the perpetrator, these attorneys litigate the cases in court to ensure that justice is carried out and that the child receives the appropriate sentence. In criminal cases where a child is the victim, prosecutors may work with the local child welfare agency to ensure that the child is protected from future harm and is not traumatized in court.
- Public Defender: These attorneys represent the child in a juvenile delinquency case or the parent in a case where criminal charges are pending that involve the same facts that brought the child into the child welfare system.
IF YOU'RE CONSIDERING PURSUING A CAREER IN CHILD LAW...
1. Take child law classes during law school. Loyola offers a wide variety of classes in the area of child law including seminars, trial practice, and externships.
2. Consider working at Loyola's Civitas Child and Family Law Clinic.
3. Consider joining Loyola's Children's Legal Rights Journal. Working on a journal that focuses on a specific topic shows potential employers that you have a strong interest in the field.
4. Develop relationships within the Chicago community of child law attorneys by getting involved with the ABA Center on Children and the Law.
6. Sharpen your courtroom skills by taking any class that helps to get you comfortable in the courtroom or by participating in Moot Court.
7. Gain experience and sharpen your writing skills through a child law externship at sites such as the Department of Children & Family Services or the Juvenile Department of the Cook County Public Defender's Office.
8. Get to know Loyola professors specializing in child and family law - Bruce Boyer, Sacha Coupet, Diane Geraghty, Mary Burns, Stacey Platt, and Anita Weinberg.
CHILD LAW RESOURCES