In legal proceedings concerning child welfare, children may be too afraid or unable to articulate their own opinions. A children's advocate stands for the interests of abused or neglected children, giving them a voice in judicial proceedings. Selected by a judge, child advocates are usually trained community volunteers. They work alongside lawyers and social workers as official members of the legal process.
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Child advocate volunteers must complete at least four hours of pre-service training and 12 hours of in-service training each year. They must know and adhere to the guidelines set by the National Court Appointed Special Advocacy Association. In addition to training, child advocates benefit from the guidance of other program staff members, and have access to additional training programs offered by related organisations.
A child's advocate meets with the child at least once every month. By speaking directly with the child, and consulting with family members, school officials, doctors and any other adults who have information concerning the case, the advocate conducts an extensive report about the case. A case review requires the advocate to actively observe the child and adults in the child's life. The review is independent of any police investigation.
The advocate reports findings to the court two weeks prior to each scheduled hearing and makes sure that facts regarding the child's circumstances are accurately reported. The advocate also attends case conferences between lawyers and other parties when these meetings concern the child. By monitoring the case after the judge gives his ruling, advocates ensure that the justice system and child welfare system work together to find a safe, permanent home for the child, and that the social services promised by the court are provided to the child and the family.
Child advocates need to keep all information they discover completely confidential. They should possess excellent written and verbal communication skills to enable effective communication with a variety of different people, including children. Advocates should be respectful, restricting judgement and maintaining objectivity when dealing with sensitive cases. An understanding of child development and family issues is valuable to advocates.
The Benefits Of Being A Child Advocate
Many child advocates are actually lawyers or social workers working as volunteers without pay, or pro-Bono. However, advocacy work is still an enriching opportunity, allowing advocates to improve the circumstances of a victimised child. Less experienced volunteers, lacking the expertise of a lawyer or social worker, become advocates to gain access to training and to obtain knowledge of the legal process while networking with social service agencies and like-minded individuals.
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