Updated: Jan 12
Family is an idea that unites one and all. Being part of a stable one is an entirely different story. For almost 48,000 children across Canada, they are closely involved with the foster care system, which in turn connects them to the lawyers that facilitate and oversee the processes they go through. With such a large amount of our children and youth involved with the system, the majority of people also have some sort of connection, direct or otherwise, to the system and its effects. Currently, up to 40% of homeless youth are in (or grew out of) the foster care system. That is a huge percentile of the Canadian demographic that goes unnoticed! With that comes the influence of the system, and how it impacts those who comprise it. We often fail to give the foster care system credit for the power it has; it is capable of uniting people who would not have been able to meet otherwise or reconnect families that were once separated, but it also has the potency to tear apart a psyche. The foster care system can deeply change the lives of those it involves, including its lawyers. So, how do lawyers of today try and alleviate the stress put on children and the families involved, and how can the lawyers of tomorrow further improve upon this?
It is rather customary to scold lawyers for being cold and heartless, but a substantial part of being a lawyer involves being an empath. In fact, this is what drives certain attorneys to certain fields of law, and that is especially true for those working in family law and within the foster care system, specifically. As much as there is a strain on clients (and children, of all people!) there is an equal or greater tension for the lawyers. Sometimes, lawyers may even feel as if they themselves are part of the situation instead of merely overseeing it. While this allows for cases to be perceived at an entirely new level, it can also create new stresses that were not there initially. This reason, along with many others, is why we must take steps to create moral, ethically correct processes within the foster care system.
The decision an attorney makes can impact a child’s life forever. It could save them from residing in the streets, or on the other side of the same coin, trap them in an abusive household. That is not to say that it is the fault of anyone that dire outcomes happen, as there are always going to be flaws in the system. However, it is the responsibility of a lawyer to understand these tribulations and find solutions for them. For as many problems as there are, there is a lawyer out there advocating to change and better the situation around it. This level of responsibility is unheard of in occupations aside from those in the law sector, which is why it is so important we recognize and commend the work done by them!
Family lawyers working within this specific vein of law do more than represent parents or caregivers; they also provide voices for children. While this may be obvious, the repercussions of this are a lot more profound than they may seem to the naked eye. While most are aware of the vulnerability of children, hence the creation of an entire program dedicated to them, this does not necessarily entail that their points of view are taken into serious consideration, or are judged correctly. For example, in a testimony made by a man who was raised drifting from foster home to foster home, he felt pressured to tell the court judge what he believed he wanted them to hear, or to please his potential adoptive parents. For attorneys working with children, some basic child psychology and going the extra mile to ensure the wellbeing of children (both in the present and future) is an absolute must. Lawyers here in Canada tend to provide more care to these children than welfare or guardians, in some cases!
Another way Canadian attorneys care for children under government welfare is by ensuring they know of the potential they have once they reach the pivotal ages of 18 and/or 21. Up until the age of 18, one may be eligible to become a permanent ward of the province they reside in, meaning that the province is their legal guardian (if they apply at 16/ do not have adoptive parents, that is). If this is the case, they may be eligible to receive certain kinds of funds from the government, or help from lawyers or others to gain a better understanding of how they may traverse through life from post-secondary to adulthood. Afterward, once an orphan turns 21 and does not have adoptive parents, they are more or less on their own unless they can continue getting support from a lawyer, which is not common due to costs. In short, a lawyer is involved with a foster child not only in placement ordeals but also in other general areas of life link schooling or finances.
Now that we have outlined exactly what lawyers do for children, how can we ensure that our generation as future attorneys can ameliorate the lives of the proceeding generation?
Taking the time to read through this blog post is a fantastic start, for one! Educating ourselves about how profound a lawyer’s impact is on children may enable us to begin choosing to prioritize the comfort and security of children who have difficult home lives. Furthermore, taking the time to understand and empathize with a child’s (or really, anyone’s!) endeavours is something we can continue to refer to. Another way lawyers of today or lawyers of the future can continue to do is go the extra mile for children, and ensuring that the people involved within the system are worthy of taking a child into their care (this is especially important with some parents abusing the foster care system due to the fiscal benefits!). That is, trusting a child and their word, but also taking precautions in the likely chance they cannot comprehend things the same way adults do (e.g. if a child claims they want to be adopted, they may not understand the gravitas of the situation, or what adoption could entail). This could involve investigative work, or even taking more time to understand child psychology.
As I finish off this blog post, I leave you with some food for thought, and I encourage a minute of reflection to fully synthesize some of the topics discussed. Firstly, what were your initial thoughts of the foster care system, and how might your opinions have changed? What do you think has been done well? What do you think could be done better? Would you consider becoming an advocate for children and families involved with these processes? If so, how?