SMU DEDMAN SCHOOL OF LAW | W.W. Caruth, Jr. Child Advocacy Clinic


A Child Welfare Case:  From Removal to Permanency

The Clinic Director recently made a presentation to foster parents at the Circles of Care, Inc., Foster Agency entitled, "A Child Welfare Case:  From Removal to Permanency."  Foster parents often are not fully aware of the nature, stages, and processes in the legal proceedings that impact the children in their care.  This presentation provided them with a full overview of the legal framework and the various stages/components of a child welfare case in the courts.  The audience was quite interactive and enthusiastic about the material.  The foster parents and agency workers in attendance received 2 hours of training credit for participating in the presentation.  The Clinic would be pleased to make a similar presentation at other foster agencies.

Dallas CASA and Education Advocacy for Children in the Child Welfare System

In May 2014, the Clinic conducted a three hour training at the Dallas CASA headquarters for CASA advocates after having collaborated on the design of the presentation with Dallas CASA attorneys, Shelly Wilbanks and Cheri Leutz.  It was entitled, “Dallas CASA and Education Advocacy for Children in the Child Welfare System.” 

Over 25,000 children are in the legal conservatorship of the State on any given day.  The majority of these children are of school age.  More than 1/3 of foster youth have five or more school changes.  Some studies indicate that each school change can cost a child four to six months of academic progress.  Moreover, students in foster care are three times more likely to need special education services.    But studies also show that school success counteracts negative effects of abuse and neglect and can help create long term positive outcomes for foster youth.  CASA advocates and GALs like the Caruth Clinic strive to create those outcomes – so the audience was quite attentive and participatory.

The presentation covered the major laws that advocates can use to create and improve educational opportunities for children (of all ages) in foster care.  Recent SMU Dedman School of Law graduates, Lindsey Craft and Kristen Zerega presented on the relevant federal laws that promote education improvement for foster kids and benefits flowing from those laws.  The Clinic Director discussed new education advocacy provisions in Texas law and tips for the CASA advocates to utilize them to the advantage of the children for whom they advocate.  Practicing attorney, and SMU and Caruth Child Advocacy Clinic graduate, George Shake (of the firm Geary Porter & Donovan, P.C.) provided an overview of the special education process in Texas and the resources available for advocates to utilize when special education would assist “their” child. 

In October 2014, the presentation was reprised at Dallas CASA with Dallas CASA attorneys conducting it based on the prior program.

Interactions between Attorneys and Experts:  Ethical and Practical Concerns

In November 2014, the Clinic Director spoke at the meeting of the Forensic Group of Dallas, a multidisciplinary group of mental health professionals and lawyers that meets bimonthly to discuss topics of interest.  She discussed ethical concerns from perspectives of a psychological expert and the attorney working with that expert.  She covered the duties of both professionals in these roles, as well as how they could be most effective in discharging their professional obligations.

Kinship Legal Custody Program

In March 2015, the Clinic conducted a three hour MCLE program at the Dallas Bar Association to train attorneys to represent relatives and other non-parents of children who already have children in their care, but do not have legal custody.  Over 13,665 grandparents in Dallas County are responsible for grandchildren living with them and the majority of them cannot afford legal services.  The number of non-grandparent caregivers in similar situations is unknown.  These caregivers need legal help to get formal custody of these children to better meet their basic needs for education, health care, and more. 

The Clinic has teamed up with the Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program to train and mentor attorneys to provide pro bono services in this vital area.   Trained attorneys will be part of a pool of attorneys who, through DVAP, will represent relatives or close friends of children seeking legal custody of children already living under their care.

This training was the first one for the program.  The attorneys who attended the training did so with the understanding that the training was free if they would accept a kinship custody case on a pro bono basis.  The training covered the basic steps to file a Suit Affecting the Parent Child Relationship and included a segment on the ethical responsibilities of attorneys when they are involved in cases relating to children.
Along with the Clinic Director, Diane Sumoski, prominent local family law attorneys made presentations:  Angel Brown Reveles of Duffey + Eitzen PC and Liz Porter of Koons Fuller PC.  SMU Law student, Lacey Barkley also participated,  as did recent SMU Law graduate, Kristen Zerega, both of whom were Child Advocacy Clinic students and research assistants. The training was incredibly successful, with approximately 60 attorneys attending with the majority of them agreeing to accept a pro bono case. 


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