OFFICE OF THE CHILD ADVOCATE (OCA) WORKS WITH DELAWARE LAWYERS IN HELPING CHILDREN
Delaware’s abused and neglected children have a friend in the Office of the Child Advocate and the hundreds of volunteer attorneys who assist OCA in representing them in Family Court. Since its creation in February 2000, the staff of OCA has worked tirelessly to both directly represent children in court and to coordinate the many attorneys — 414 attorneys during Fiscal Year 2007 — who volunteer countless hours to the program. The volunteer attorneys serve as guardians ad litem to advocate for the best interests of Delaware’s abused, neglected and dependent children when those children have been removed from their parents and placed in the legal custody of the Division of Family Services (DFS). In Fiscal Year 2007, the volunteer attorneys represented nearly 1,000 children, most of whom are in Delaware’s foster care system.
According to Tania Culley, the Child Advocate, the volunteer attorneys are truly unsung heroes who make a tremendous difference in the lives of the children they serve. She cites, for example, the changes in the lives of three children made by one volunteer attorney who represented the youngest children of a mother who gave birth to seven children, none of whom she raised. The oldest three children were adopted through Pennsylvania’s child protection system. When the fourth child was born in Delaware, the volunteer attorney worked tirelessly to figure out whether the child’s parents could conquer their heroin addiction. When they did not, she worked with the DFS to get this child placed with his older siblings. Not long after that work was done, the parents gave birth to drug-addicted premature twins who came into the custody of Delaware DFS. As the result of the volunteer attorney’s involvement, parental rights were ultimately terminated and the children were adopted by the family who had adopted their siblings, and who were interested in these medically fragile children as well. In March of 2007, the seventh child entered the custody of Delaware DFS, and the volunteer attorney immediately began working with the adoptive family who had the siblings. At this time, placement of this child with his siblings is imminent.
This kind of story, however, is not unique. In a different family situation, another volunteer attorney represented the three youngest children from a mother who gave birth to eight children, none of whom she raised. The volunteer attorney began representing children number 6 and 7 in 2003, after child number 6 nearly died. Child number 7 was born at home where he also nearly died and had to be resuscitated. He suffered hemorrhages and hypovolemic shock. The attorney advocated for these children and their special medical needs while their biological mother unsuccessfully tried to overcome her drug addiction. Ultimately, parental rights were terminated for these two children (and their younger sibling born in 2005), and both have been adopted. Most touching are the obstacles these children have overcome, specifically with child number 7, who suffered significant neurological impairment. This impairment caused medical professionals to predict that he would never walk. However, with the love and support of his adoptive family, the child who was never expected to walk, walked on his own into this adoption hearing.