San Diego County Bar Association Task Force on Children at Risk Final Report

The Anti-Father Justice System


San Diego County Bar Association Task Force on Children at Risk Final Report

Preface: Honorable Napoleon A. Jones, Jr., United Stated District Court, Southern District of California.

I would like to thank Ms. Regina Petty, President of the San Diego County Bar Association, and the Directors of the Bar for affording me this opportunity to work with the Task Force on Children at Risk, a working group comprised of members from the Bench and Bar. This Committee met at least monthly for approximately ten months. It exemplified, in microcosm, the legal community's general frustration about the overall functioning of an overburdened, undersubsidized system of care for our children. The system has repeatedly confronted the community with the reality that, to a great extent, we are jeopardizing, if not losing, our most precious resource -- our children.

The Bar Task Force reinforced my belief that we can save this resource. For many years I served on the Juvenile Court Bench, and twice in the capacity of Presiding Judge.

Since leaving that court, I have been approached thousands of times by individuals who wanted to do something to help, but there was no plan of action. What follows is a workable blue print for the meaningful involvement of the Bench and Bar in addressing the needs of our children.

"The test of a nation's strength is the condition of its weakest and most vulnerable members...The interlocking crises of child poverty, divorce, disease, violence and abandonment are symptoms of a pervasive devaluation of children in our culture. Any one of these trends by itself would be bad for children. But together they show a portrait of a generation under attack from every direction. Many of the most disadvantaged children have multiple problems: A foster child may come from a divorced family, have health problems, and experience poverty. In this 360-degree free-fire zone, children don't have a chance." ...From Cradle to Grave, Jonathan Freedman


For the last 10 months, the San Diego County Bar Association Task Force on Children at Risk has explored the lives of children in San Diego. Using the 1994 ABA Report America's Children at Risk as our guide, we set out to discover what the San Diego legal community could do to meet our children's unmet legal needs. Each month the volunteers who served on the Task Force, all of them San Diego County judges and attorneys, convened for a three hour seminar focused on a particular issue. We invited experts and leaders from the community to give us their perspectives, and to educate us about what needs to be done. Over half of the presenters were non-lawyers. Topics included such areas as domestic violence and its impact on children, special education, substance abuse and mental and physical health. Our monthly "mini-seminars" always ended with the same question:

What can we do -- as lawyers and judges, as mothers and fathers, as neighbors -- to improve the lives of the most vulnerable members of our San Diego community?

We have six recommendations for action. What we heard again and again from community leaders was how much our help was needed. They asked us to encourage judges to develop coordinated strategies with law enforcement in the area of domestic violence, to educate parents on the rights of their children to special education services and to assist community activists with the creation of regulations which would keep one more liquor store from opening in a neighborhood. We learned that thousands of our country's children are at risk as victims of violence in their community, at risk of failure in schools, and at risk for low birth weight due to inadequate pre- natal care. These children and their families need and deserve the help of many people, including the legal community.

We recognize that the members of the Bar cannot alone hope to solve the problems of poverty, malnutrition, mental illness, violence and family disintegration. We also firmly believe, as individual practitioners and as judges who have seen hundreds of cases involving these issues, that the family is the foundation for a child's welfare and happiness. Yet, we believe that members of the legal community can help. We have the needed skills and expertise and we should work within our communities to develop solutions to these problems. With this is mind, we offer the following six recommendations for consideration by the entire Bar, and for action by those with the conviction and courage to lend their skills and hearts to this effort.

If you are interested in helping in any way, please contact the San Diego County Bar Association at (619) 231-0781, and request that a Task Force member contact you. We will call you and find the best way for you to contribute your time and talent.

Our General Recommendation: The San Diego County Bar Association Should Establish a Standing Committee on Children- at-risk

In 1990, 92,928 children between the ages of 0 - 18 were living in poverty in San Diego County. Children account for over one-third of all San Diegans in poverty.

The San Diego County Bar should establish a standing committee on children's legal issues that will advance the interests of children in different legal forums, before the public and before decision makers. The critical action areas the committee should initially consider include: domestic violence and its impact on children; the impact of societal violence on youth; access to quality mental and physical health care; substance abuse; poverty and its affect on families; and the education rights of children. The standing committee will help promote our children's legal needs by helping to implement the following five recommendations. Each recommendation is detailed in the body of this report.

Recommendation #1: Increase the legal services available to children.

Recommendation #2:Educate the community, so that adults who care about children, or who care about a particular child, can be zealous advocates.

Recommendation #3: Train the bench and the bar on children's legal issues.

Recommendation #4:Encourage and support the Judges of the Superior and Municipal Courts in solving court organization problems which hamper the court's effectiveness in serving the children's needs.

Recommendation #5:Attorneys practicing in relevant areas of the law should become more active as advocates for statutory or public policy changes which affect the children and families who are our clients.

Recommendation #1: Increase the Legal Services Available to Children

Cuts in legal services could leave San Diego's children with no low-cost lawyers to represent them in guardianships, special education cases, domestic disputes or public benefits appeals.

The Task Force found there is a critical lack of funding for children's legal services in a number of areas. Children are at risk due to domestic and community violence, poverty, public benefits cuts, inadequate educational programs, and poor mental and physical health. The Task Force considered a number of initiatives which would increase children's access to representation in the legal proceedings which touch on these important areas of their lives.

1. Vigorously support existing pro bono programs for children at the San Diego Volunteer Lawyer Program (SDVLP), and continue to support funding for legal services to poor children through the Legal Aid Society of San Diego, Inc., the SDVLP and California Indian Legal Services.

2. Support development of a group of lawyers and advocates with expertise in special education:

educate practitioners to recognize special education issues;
support the emerging "NEAT" network (Network for improved Education through Advocacy and Training);
support SDVLP's efforts to establish a volunteer panel in special education; and
endorse legislation which promotes children's rights to special education services.

3. Establish a committee of lawyers to develop expertise in the area of confidentiality and health care, in anticipation of access and service delivery problems encountered by poor children covered by Medi-Cal managed care plans.

4. Work to ensure the availability of pro bono and low-cost legal representation to victims of domestic violence, including children, and:

enhance existing referral systems from the court or pro bono panels for victims of domestic violence;
encourage law school clinical programs on domestic violence;
design and offer low-cost or free MCLE accredited legal education programs
specializing in domestic violence and its nexus with child abuse; and
coordinate efforts with minority bar associations, the INS, and community
organizations to assist immigrant domestic violence victims who are often hesitant to seek legal assistance.

5. Sponsor an "Adopt a child/Empower the family" program to provide legal representation throughout the age of minority that will:

spot legal issues in schooling, health services, or domestic disputes;
educate parents to advocate for their child; and
encourage attorneys to stay on a case and provide legal services as needed beyond those provided by public law office attorneys in dependency, delinquency or criminal proceedings.

Recommendation #2: Educate the Community, so that adults who care about children, or a particular child, can be zealous advocates.

Children in foster care are 2 to 3 times more likely than the general school-age population to have a disability related to education.

While community education is needed in many areas, the Task Force has prioritized the need to educate the parents of children with special needs, including physical, emotional and mental disabilities. Parents and caregivers are often uninformed about available special education services for these children. Moreover, parents are not always aware of the Federal law requiring the state to provide eligible youth with special education services. We also examined children's health concerns. The data indicates that a healthy early childhood correlates with future well-being. Thus, the future of the community is dependent on a healthy generation of children.

We were also asked to help communities suffering from youth violence to develop Alternative Dispute Resolution and educational programs on the legal nature of the parent-child relationship.

1. Show support for Alternative Dispute Resolution programs, particularly in communities where young people are quick to resolve situations with violence, and:

work with the Bar's ADR section to develop a community mediation model targeted at young adults in communities heavily impacted by youth violence; and
assist community organizations, churches and other relevant agencies in applying for and implementing community mediation grants.

2. Make available information on issues of concern to parents and caregivers of children with special needs:

develop, in conjunction with the San Diego City and County Schools, an informational pamphlet for parents which explains special education rights in simple language; and
distribute this information to schools, churches and ministerial associations, and offer a panel of speakers to make presentations.

3. Provide community outreach in connection with local organizations:

sponsor a speaker's bureau to provide speakers on children's issues at events such as law day, community meetings, and back to school nights;
offer an informational hotline at the Bar Association once a week, staffed by attorneys and law students; and
collect data and information on available programs and assistance.

4. Launch a public education campaign on child abuse, together with other interested professionals and with the assistance of the Bar's public information and public relations committees on child abuse:

modeled after public health campaigns against smoking; and
emphasizing parenting issues, including stress, child mental health, and

mpact of abuse and neglect on children.

5. Have the Children and the Law committee in conjunction with the public information and public relations committees create a logo and slogan to:

heighten the awareness of the bench, bar and public to the effects of child abuse and neglect;
encourage participation by the bench and bar; and
be used on all bar publications and promotional materials relating to children and the law.

Recommendation #3: Train the Bench and the Bar on Children's Legal Issues

From 1984 - 1991, juvenile caseloads rose nationally by over one-third. Domestic relations cases made up roughly one-third of all civil cases filed in courts of general jurisdiction in 27 states surveyed in 1990.

People have a right to demand that Juvenile Court judges and attorneys be of the highest caliber, as they are addressing the most complex and important issues facing society today. Moreover, Superior and Municipal Court judges handle civil and criminal cases every day involving the difficult issues of domestic violence, substance abuse, custody, child support and child welfare. Accordingly, we make the following recommendations to ensure our courts are staffed with judicial officers and attorneys trained to recognize legal issues which impact children.

Besides adequate training, the Task Force also found it extremely important that the Bench and Bar continue to diversify. African-American and Latino children are overrepresented in the dependency and delinquency systems: justice demands that these children have access to courts which reflect their identity and cultures.

1. a) The Presiding Judge of the Superior Court in conjunction with the Presiding Judge of the Juvenile and Family Court should establish:

training requirements;
training programs; and
a training manual for the entire bench.

b) Juvenile Court judicial officers should receive training before and during their tenure at Juvenile Court in:

structure of dependency law;
developments in social work practice and related fields; and
improving outcomes in dependency cases.

c) Implement interdisciplinary training for the bench and bar through collaboration with local universities and other professionals on topics including, but not limited to, the following:

child development;
substance abuse;
mental health;
special education;
resources for children and families;
cultural sensitivity; and
domestic violence.

2. In addition to the above interdisciplinary training, training for attorneys should be improved by:

mandating legal skills pertinent to the practice; and
developing a certification program as a requirement for attorneys who practice at Juvenile Court.

3. Directors of public law offices should demonstrate the importance of work in Juvenile Court by:

equivalent promotion opportunities and prestige within their offices for those attorneys who choose to practice in Juvenile Court; and
deleting jury trial performance as a consideration for promotion for Juvenile Court attorneys.

Recommendation #4: Encourage and support the Judges of the Superior and Municipal Courts in solving court organization problems which hamper the courts in serving children's needs.

Nationally, 3.3 million children witness domestic violence in the home each year. In San Diego, there were approximately 5,200 arrests for domestic violence in 1994, and 7,370 Temporary Restraining Order issued on claims of domestic violence.

The courts, particularly the Family and Juvenile Court, should recognize their responsibility toward encouraging healthy families. In particular, matters involving allegations of abuse and/or disputed custody frequently result in emotional abuse to children. Orders involving domestic violence may be entered on numerous occasions in different cases involving the same persons, but with no knowledge by each court of pre-existing violations. Courts can be better organized to handle cases involving children in ways that both protect children's interests and safety, yet provide effective reunification plans and enforcement of court orders. In this regard, the following are the Task Force recommendations.

1. The San Diego County Bar should support efforts to create a unified family court by:

establishing a task force to work towards this goal, with representatives from Family Court, Juvenile Court and the Bar,
deciding how best to deal with family law cases involving allegations of abuse and/or custody disputes which endanger the child's emotional well being; and
in the interim, strengthening existing protocols for cooperation on cases where a child's welfare is at risk.

2. The county should expand low-cost counseling services for children and spousal victims of domestic abuse establishing additional programs which provide continuity and consistency throughout the legal and judicial system.

3. The courts (Family, Juvenile, Criminal domestic violence) should train and alert attorneys to the problems of monitoring parental compliance with family court orders for domestic violence programs, parenting classes, counseling, etc.:

attorneys in these cases must understand the need to monitor compliance for the sake of child safety; and
volunteers already involved in such cases should establish a protocol for monitoring parental compliance with family court orders.

4. The courts (Family, Juvenile, Criminal domestic violence) should establish a means to communicate, coordinate and share data through computer access and other information sharing mechanisms:

for domestic violence order compliance and history; and
for updated resource lists for domestic violence and rehabilitation programs throughout the county.

5. The courts, law enforcement agencies, social services providers and mental health professionals should develop protocols for handling domestic violence cases, and for getting accurate information to the court about each case.

Recommendation #5: Attorneys practicing in relevant areas of the law should become more active advocates for statutory and public policy changes which affect at-risk children and their families.

12% of the nation's children suffer from mental health problems severe enough to require professional mental health treatment. In San Diego, our current system reaches only 4.7% of the children in need.

Attorneys with practices in civil law, who do not see themselves as practicing in areas of law related to children, can help think through new solutions to old problems. There is a need for expertise in administrative law, federal regulatory law, health care law and constitutional law. Any attorney frustrated with injustices and inefficiencies can be an active advocate for changes in statutes or public policies.

We call upon attorneys to become advocates in new arenas, including the legislature and local bodies of government, and to share their knowledge and expertise to create better laws for children. We begin with four recommendations on issues of current importance to children.

1. The Juvenile Court Bar, the new standing committee and the bench should discuss the desirability of changing statutes to return to a system of "dual" jurisdiction (dependency and delinquency):

removal of the court's ability to maintain dual jurisdiction over a child hampers efforts to work with children and families; and
efforts to support dual jurisdiction should be made by the County with the support of the Bar.

2. Services to seriously emotionally disturbed children should be consolidated and alternatives to hospitalization and care far away from home should be aggressively explored, to promote children's legal rights and public welfare. We support:

a system of care which emphasizes "wrap-around" services to children and families; and
attorneys and judges demanding that our public agencies offer appropriate services.

3. The Board of Supervisors should require the Children's Services Bureau and the Probation Department to keep annual statistics of the wards and dependents requiring mental health services. These statistics should include:

children receiving psychotropic medications;
children taken to emergency psychiatric hospitalization;
children referred for therapy; and
children at the juvenile hall kept in isolation due to serious emotional problems.

4. Members of the Bar should support the efforts of the statewide "Campaign to Prevent Handgun Violence Against Kids" including:

legislation to eliminate the manufacture of "Saturday Night Specials" in California;
local zoning to prevent private dealers from selling from their homes; and
education of clients (parents and children) on the dangers of guns in the home. 5. Provide legal assistance to community organizations seeking to curb alcohol and drug abuse through "environmental" strategies such as regulating the location of vendors of alcohol and drug paraphernalia, limiting the use of alcohol in public places, and monitoring the proximity of alcohol advertising to schools.


The Bar Task Force wishes to thank the many professionals and community members who volunteered their time and shared their expertise with us. Each month was our classroom, and we had the benefit of a most able group of "teachers". We have listed them below for acknowledgment. Any conclusions reached from their presentation are purely our own. We would like to thank the following presenters:

Special Education

Mitch Perlman, Ph.d., Psychologist

Domestic Violence

Casey G. Gwinn, Principal Assistant to the City Attorney

Corey Ryan, Director of Development and Director of Domestic

Violence Services, YWCA of San Diego County. Youth Violence

Ray Avila, Deputy District Attorney

Jeff Reilly, Deputy Public Defender

Ray Smith, Director, Triple Crown

Walt Sandford, Paradise Valley Hospital; Campaign to Prevent Handgun Violence

Against Kids

Mental Health

Ricardo Weinstein, Ph.d., Psychologist

Linda Duffy, Probation Department

Nancy Ajemian, Executive Director, Harmonium

Dennis Doyle, Former Principal, King Elementary School

Physical Health

Dr. Nancy Bowen, M.D., Maternal and Child Health Programs, San Diego County

Department of Health Services.

Substance Abuse

Art Aragon, Mesa Vista Hospital

Ray DiCiccio, Pathfinders of San Diego

Cleo Malone, Ph.D., Executive Director, The Palavra Tree

We would also like to thank the students and staff of the University of San Diego School of Law who assisted us with ourwork. Carolyn Flaugher, administrative assistant to the Child Advocacy Clinic at USD, and clinic students Sean Banks, Annika Green, and Lauren Boyd helped us immeasurably with our work. We also thank the Children's Advocacy Institute at USD for its administrative support of this project.



The Honorable Napoleon A. Jones, Jr. United States District Court Chair

Sharon Kalemkiarian Professor of Law Children's Advocacy Institute, USD Co-Chair

Luis Aragon Deputy District Attorney

Kathryn Ashworth Ashworth and Blanchet

Alan Bersin United States Attorney

Sharon Blanchet Vice President S.D. County Bar Association

Jim Cohen Directing Attorney California Indian Legal Services

Ana Espana Child Advocacy Office

Patricia Garcia Selzer, Caplan, Wilkins & McMahon

Tom Gayton Attorney-at-Law

The Honorable Lisa Guy-Schall San Diego Superior Court

Greg Knoll, Esq. Executive Director Legal Aid Society of San Diego, Inc.

Amalia Meza Deputy US Attorney

Carolyn L. Oliver Assistant U.S. Attorney

The Honorable Robert O'Neill San Diego Superior Court

Carl Poirot Executive Director San Diego Volunteer Lawyers Program

Diane Ritchey-Andrews Attorney-at-Law

George Root Weissburg and Aronson, Inc.

Alice Shotton Attorney-at-Law

Barbara Silber Katz Juvenile Law Section of the County Bar

Sherry Sokoloff Alternate Public Defender

Tim Taylor Sheppard, Mullin, Richter and Hampton

The Honorable Joan Weber San Diego Superior Court

Janet Weinstein Professor of Law California Western School of Law