Children’s Legal Services (CLS) plays an integral role at each stage of a Chapter 39 proceeding. Often, CLS becomes involved in a family’s life when a Department child protective investigator seeks to remove a child from an unsafe home. Where it is determined that a child has been abused, abandoned, or neglected, CLS will advocate for a trial court to adjudicate the child dependent. CLS then partners with case management organizations to ensure that the family receives the services necessary to eliminate the conditions in the home that resulted in the child being in present or impending danger. Those services may include parenting classes, mental health or substance abuse treatment, or domestic violence intervention.
Chapter 39 mandates that a child reach permanency through reunification with the parent, adoption, or permanent guardianship as timely and expeditiously as possible. With the support of case management, CLS attorneys diligently monitor the parent’s compliance with the case plan and advise the court at each judicial review hearing of the progress. CLS will advocate for reunification of the child with the parents when it is deemed safe for the child to return home with appropriate services. However, should reunification not be safe for the child, CLS will pursue other permanency options.
Like any attorney, a CLS attorney is responsible for multiple cases and must ensure Florida and federal legal requirements are met. A CLS attorney collaborates with Department investigators and case managers to gather the evidence necessary to support the recommendation the State makes in each case. CLS is responsible for preparing its partners to serve as witnesses at trial. And, CLS attorneys employ best practice litigation techniques so that CLS’s pleadings and trial presentations lead the nation in dependency advocacy.