Crossroads For Florida Kids, Inc. is a 501c3 organization created during the summer of 2012 by Rosemary Armstrong, Sandy Weinberg and Allison Singer of Tampa, Florida.
The trio was surprised to learn of the dearth of legal representation for children in foster care and the deleterious effect it can have on their outcomes. They collaborated with Robin Rosenberg, Deputy Director of Florida’s Children First which advocates for kids in state care, and became a part of that organization’s Dependency Recruitment Initiative that provides training and other assistance for pro bono programs.
Next, they sought and received support from individual lawyers and bar organizations and sections that led to the founding of the nonprofit and the recruitment of over 40 prospective pro bono attorneys who attended a dependency training on October 22, 2012. Training presentations were made by Robin Rosenberg and Jessica Rae, the Florida Bar Trial Lawyers Children’s Legal Services Fellow who is practicing at the Community Law Program in St. Petersburg, Florida
Within a short time, judges and other stakeholders in the foster care system began referring children to Crossroads for representation. Most of our attorneys represent their young clients as part of a team. Collectively, their clients range in age from 3 to 17 and are all in foster care. One teen is represented by two teams of lawyers; two criminal defense attorneys who represent her in criminal proceedings have secured her release from adult jail and, and two civil litigators represent her in dependency proceedings. Other cases involve children with severe mental and physical health problems, and children with delinquency issues.
In Florida, a “delinquent act” is a violation of law by a person under the age of 18. Children in foster care who commit a delinquent act are called “crossovers” and are under the dual jurisdiction of the delinquency and dependency courts. Although crossover children are represented by the Public Defender for delinquency matters, their Crossroads dependency pro bono attorneys collaborate with and assist the Public Defender, as needed. We believe that legal counseling and advocacy on behalf of our crossover clients will ensure better outcomes for them, including reducing recidivism. Learn how you can Get Involved and check our Events schedule to learn more about our delinquency trainings for pro bono attorneys.
Why it matters:
- Last year, over 3,000 children were in out-of-home foster care in Hillsborough County, Florida. They are children who should have been nurtured and protected by their caretakers, but instead were abused, neglected or abandoned by them. Just like other children, those in foster care are full of talents and hopes and dreams. Crossroads pro bono attorneys use legal advocacy to keep their clients’ hopes and dreams alive to ensure they realize their potential.
- Children in state care are under the jurisdiction of the dependency court, with their progress monitored at regularly scheduled hearings. Fewer than 10% of children in Florida’s foster care system, and fewer than 2% in Hillsborough County, are represented by counsel in dependency proceedings. In Florida, they have no statutory right to appointed counsel. This failure to provide counsel puts Florida in the minority of states, one of only ten to earn an “F” grade on a national report card issued by First Star, a national public charity dedicated to improving life for child victims of abuse and neglect, in its publication A Child’s Right to Counsel, Third Edition (available at www.floridaschildrenfirst.org)
- Children in foster care in Florida are entitled to the appointment of a guardian ad litem (GAL) who makes recommendations as to what is in the child’s best interest. However, approximately 30% of children are not assigned a GAL. Moreover, although a GAL can be important to the child, there are times when it is not enough. Kids in foster care are a part of a system populated by well meaning, hard working people who are unfortunately tasked with the care of too many vulnerable children. Studies have shown that the abuse or neglect that causes a child to fall under the dependency court’s jurisdiction can also affect his or her likelihood of becoming a crossover child in delinquency.*
- There are times in the lives of these vulnerable children that problems arise when an attorney’s counseling and advocacy on their behalf is sorely needed. Crossroads For Florida Kids pro bono attorneys provide an important service to children in foster care in Hillsborough County, Florida.
*Hertz, D. & Ryan, J., Building Multisystem Approaches in Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice, National Association of Public Child Welfare Administrators (2008).