I was recently appointed to represent a young child who is the subject of an abuse and neglect case. I went to visit with the child at her daycare, and was spontaneously commended by the daycare provider for coming to meet with the child. She told me that she is also a foster parent and has had over 160 children pass through her home. My visit was the fourth time she had ever seen a lawyer for a foster child. I was only the third lawyer she had ever seen, as one of the prior lawyers had visited twice (props to Wendy McGowan on being that lawyer).
I also attended part of the Children’s Justice Conference in Rapid City on Tuesday. As was the case last year, the Young Voices group, which is composed of young people who have been involved in the foster care system, was not on the agenda. I suspect the reason is that those arranging the conference got tired of hearing about poorly we do in many ways, including lawyers purporting to represent clients that they never talk to. I have previously discussed just how easy it would be to change our culture of legal malpractice if the judiciary wanted it changed. If judges handling abuse and neglect cases took an extra 30 seconds per hearing to ask attorneys representing children when they had last met with their client, the culture of not doing so would change virtually overnight.
Right now, it seems that there is not just a tolerance of, but a preference for, poor (and unethical) representation. I am somewhat baffled as to why this is, but suspect that it is due to an (incorrect) belief that it costs less. We should be ashamed, and I suspect that in some ways we are, which is why we no longer hear from former foster children who point out our flaws.
If you are a former foster child who never met your lawyer, feel free to contact me. I would be more than happy to help you report your lawyer to the disciplinary board.