Crossroads For Florida Kids, Inc (Crossroads) is a 501(c)(3) non profit organization created in 2012 by current Executive Director Rosemary Armstrong, her husband Sandy Weinberg, and Allison Singer.
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 in the foster care system began referring children to Crossroads for representation. Our trained pro bono attorneys represent their young clients as part of a team. They partner with another attorney and are mentored throughout the representation. Crossroads also provides professional liability insurance for its attorneys. Although most of Crossroads young clients are in foster care (up to age 18) or extended foster care (ages 18-21), we also oversee an on call Attorney ad Litem program in Delinquency Division for children who are not currently in foster care. Pro bono attorneys pick a day in a month to come to court to represent and assist children who arrive for their delinquency hearings without a parent or guardian. Sometimes these short-term representations are extended beyond the initial hearing, This happens when a child’s parents are unable or unwilling to assist them in completing terms of probation, or with other important matters.
Children come into foster care not because of anything they did wrong, but rather because their parent or guardian abused, neglected or abandoned them. Because of this trauma, children in foster care often have mental health problems and are more likely than other kids to pick up delinquency charges, and later to be charged with criminal offenses. Most of the children we represent are teens with delinquency charges, and some have mental health issues or are trafficking victims. Since 2012, we have also served as Attorneys ad Litem for child clients who have been charged as adults in criminal division. We know all about our clients, and can assist their defense attorneys by presenting helpful information. Between the end of October, 2012 and January, 2017, Crossroads attorneys have represented 111 children in their dependency proceedings, most for multiple years. During the same time frame, we have done extended representations for 41 children in delinquency division. And, since May, 2013 Crossroads attorneys have represented approximately 300 children who arrived for their delinquency hearings without a parent or guardian. Sadly, since 2012 Crossroads attorneys have served as Attorneys ad Litem for 21 children who have been charged as adults in criminal division.
Who are we? We are pro bono attorneys of all ages, from millennials to baby boomers, who take on complex representations of poor children and young adults in our community. We use our legal skills to make a positive difference in the lives of our young clients, and recruit other attorneys to join our program. As our numbers have swelled to well over 100 attorneys, so too have the number of pro bono hours we contribute each year. In 2016, we contributed 5,556 pro bono hours representing our clients. This compares with 3,500 in 2013, 4,100 in 2014, and 4,600 in 2015.
Why it Matters
- Last year, over 3,700 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. Florida is one of only ten states that do not provide attorneys for all or most children in foster care. State law requires the appointment of an attorney in only four “special needs” situations. In Florida, all parties in a child’s dependency case have attorneys….except, in most cases, the child!
- Children in foster care in Florida are entitled to the appointment of a guardian ad litem (GAL) who makes recommendations to the court as to what he/she believes is in the best interest of the child. 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 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 children in foster care that problems arise when an attorney’s counseling and advocacy on their behalf is sorely needed. Crossroads attorneys fight for what their clients want and need, both inside and outside the courtroom. We provide an important service to poor children in our community by representing them in their dependency proceedings, as well as assisting their defense counsel in delinquency and criminal proceedings.
*Hertz, D. & Ryan, J., Building Multisystem Approaches in Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice, National Association of Public child Welfare Administrators (2008)
What We Do
Crossroads For Florida Kids’ attorneys provide needed advocacy for vulnerable children in Hillsborough County, Florida.
Currently we represent many children in their dependency proceedings, some of whom are “crossovers”–children in foster care who have picked up delinquency charges. We also serve as Attorneys ad Litem for our child and young adult clients in delinquency and criminal divisions.
The first child referred to Crossroads for representation was in 2012. She was a teen girl removed from her home because of a parental drug issue. She was placed in a group home and ran away. Tricked by a trafficker who offered help, she was abused and coerced into misdeeds. She was arrested with adults, and transferred to adult criminal division. This was her first arrest. After several weeks in jail, two Crossroads attorneys were appointed to represent her in dependency division; and, when the Public Defender’s Office withdrew because of a conflict, two other Crossroads attorneys were appointed in her criminal case. The teen girl was soon released from jail, and subsequently reunified with her family.
All our cases are complex. In addition to delinquency and trafficking involvement, some of the kids we represent have children of their own, others have serious mental or physical problems, and ALL bear the burden of the past abuse and neglect that caused them to be found dependent on the State of Florida for their care. Learn how you can get involved and make a positive difference in the lives of at risk children in our community.