Inside: Guest Editor’s Column, April 2016

After I got over the shock of being asked to be guest editor for this month’s edition of the Contra Costa Lawyer featuring juvenile law, I began to ask myself what needs to be said on behalf of our youth. Since I work primarily with families who are involved with the child welfare system, many topics came to mind. I am thankful for the writers who have volunteered to tackle this important, broad and tough topic.

I just finished reading an article in the New Yorker, written by Jill Lepore, “Annals of Children’s Welfare: Baby Doe, A political history of tragedy.”1 This article helped focus me on the critical nature of the work we do. Most of the families who come in contact with the child welfare system whom I represent are indigent, not only in the fact that they lack financial resources, but they are often poor in opportunity, hope, status, education, family connections and in the ability to connect to resources.

I have worked and lived in Contra Costa County for almost 25 years, so it is not unusual for me to recognize the names of families I have worked with on more than one occasion. I advocate for families to stay together whenever it can be done so safely. I direct them to education, to resources and strategies in the hope that we can break the cycle that keeps them involved with governmental intrusion in their private lives.

Breaking the cycle of domestic violence, child abuse, substance abuse and addiction, sexual abuse and criminality is a difficult task. But when it is successful, and families are truly able to function on their own, it brings a sense of great satisfaction to those of us who work with these families on a regular basis.

We are truly grateful for the volunteers who assist us in this hard work. Most often, the biggest aid to keeping families from returning to the court system is the ability to build and keep a supportive network outside of the court system. Gina Turturici, Recruitment Coordinator of CASA of Contra Costa, has written an article with more details. We are grateful to the CASA volunteers working with young people who are disconnected from their birth family and need the support and modeling that comes from these great volunteers.

We are also thankful for the families who are willing to adopt these children who have been damaged. Adoptive families offering a “forever home” to a child who has known nothing but instability, is sometimes the only solution to breaking a cycle of dysfunction that has gone on for generations. Megan Cohen has written on the emotional and legal issues facing families and individuals in the private adoption world.

We are also thankful for education and training. We have learned that there is no single “correct” definition for family. We have learned that it is okay to be different. We have learned that a family can have more than one mother or more than one father. We have learned that trying to force our definitions of what we believe may be correct or accepted may be the very thing that is causing distress. The article written by Summer Selleck on transgender youth and the Juvenile Court system further highlights our need to continue to expand our understanding of all people.

Johanna Kwasniewski provides a comprehensive look at new California legislation concerning expanded dependent parent protections in juvenile proceeds.

We also have a look at juvenile dependency and delinquency in the court system authored by Judge Maddock, who also sets out new procedures and law changes for practitioners.

Finally, we get some great tax tips from Christina Weed, who advises us on claiming all our child tax benefits.

Thank you to all the contributors who have worked so hard to put together this edition of the Contra Costa Lawyer.

[1] “Baby Doe: A political history of tragedy,” by Jill Lepore, The New Yorker, February 1, 2016.