The Blog Formerly Known As Practical Paralegalism
Employer: I own and operate my own freelance paralegal firm, Paralegal for the Children, in Lompoc CA.
Years of Paralegal Experience: About 2
Specialty Areas: I specialize in juvenile dependency law – that is, the law that governs the operation of the foster care system. The firm I mainly work with is appointed by the court to represent the minor children in the system, and to advocate for their needs and interests.
Career Highlight: I’ve had a number of instances lately where I was tasked by my supervising attorneys with researching and drafting trial briefs on behalf of our clients. When I get an e-mail saying, “Congratulations, we won the argument based on your trial brief, and the right outcome is going to happen for our client”, that always makes me feel great.
For paralegals interested in working with children in the foster care system, either as a career or as a volunteer with the courts, what do you recommend they consider before applying?
Working in the juvenile dependency system is intensely rewarding, because the work you do has a real, tangible impact on the lives of the kids in the system. But being engaged in that system also brings you face-to-face with some of the worst kinds of cruelty that we humans can visit upon one another. Police reports and even autopsy reports are sometimes part of my work, and reading them is always heartbreaking. Make sure you have the emotional strength and support systems to cope with that, or doing this kind of work will drive you crazy.
Also, although I’ve been blessed to see (and contribute to) many positive outcomes for our clients, there are also times where you have to watch a kid go back to a birth family that has barely squeaked through the reunification system. Sometimes, those kids end up back in foster care months or years later, and the cycle repeats. You have to be able to accept that you can’t save everyone, and that sometimes the best you can do is produce a better outcome for a kid than what she would have had without your work.
Like me, you added to your family by adopting a daughter from the state foster care system. Do you have any advice for those considering building their families through adoption?
Be prepared for the fact that the foster care system is a government bureaucracy, with the same turf wars and inefficiencies as any other large bureaucracy. There’s never enough funding, never enough staff, and never enough services to meet everyone’s needs. So, if you’re going to become a foster parent and/or adopt, you need to be prepared to advocate – and sometimes advocate hard – for the child(ren) in your care. Also, keep notes of all your contacts with the system, and save your sent and received e-mails. They can save your bacon if something goes wrong – for example, if a false allegation of abuse or neglect is made. And don’t fool yourself into thinking that can’t happen.
Favorite Internet Resource: I love The Volokh Conspiracy (http://www.volokh.com/) – the authors are a group of law professors at various colleges, the subject matter is very diverse, and I always learn something.
Favorite Legal Software: Not strictly legal software, but the (Mac-only, for the moment) program Scrivener (http://www.literatureandlatte.com/) is fabulous for organizing and managing large legal writing projects such as trial and appellate briefs.
Fun Fact: In addition to my spouse and our 14-year-old daughter, I also share my home with three medium-sized parrots: A Goffin’s Cockatoo, a Congo African Grey Parrot (who talks prodigiously), and a Chestnut-Fronted Macaw.
Do you Twitter? Yes.
Favorite Quote: “Childhood does not wait for the parent to become adequate.” – In re Marilyn H. (1993) 5 Cal.4th 295, 310, 851 P.2d 826; 19 Cal. Rptr. 2d 544.
Professional Link: http://www.childrensparalegal.com/