The University of Nebraska College of Law created the Children’s Justice Clinic in 2017 in partnership with the University of Nebraska Center on Children, Families and the Law. Students participating in the Children’s Justice Clinic will serve as guardians ad litem in the Lancaster County Juvenile Court under the supervision of adjunct law professor Michelle Paxton. The primary goal of the Children’s Justice Clinic is to provide students with the knowledge, skills and ethical underpinnings necessary to function as effective advocates in a setting involving the legal needs of young children.
Foundational training in the Children’s Justice Clinic focuses on courtroom skills, federal and state child welfare laws, the child welfare process, child development, and trauma in young children. There are many competencies that are essential to be an effective guardian ad litem that go beyond the substantive and procedural law. For example, parents and their children entering the juvenile system often have many complicated circumstances such as domestic violence, substance abuse, mental illness, cognitive limitations, and minimal parenting skills. To effectively represent children with such complex needs and family dynamics, guardian ad litems must have a working knowledge of these issues; understand how they impact children, parenting, and family functioning; and be able to advocate for plans that ensure child safety, permanency, and well-being in the context of challenging conditions. The multidisciplinary team of psychologists, child welfare practitioners, social workers or mental health practitioners from the Center on Children, Families and the Law will develop curriculum and case consultation in the following areas to provide specialized knowledge and skills guardians ad litem need to be effective.
“The GAL is critical in a juvenile court case. In Lancaster County, we need more attorneys not only willing to serve as a GAL, but able to implement best practices to effectively advocate for children. Advocating for very young children presents a unique challenge that requires a special skill set.”
Judge Roger HeidemanPresiding Judge, Separate Juvenile CourtLancaster County