Grant supports juvenile law attorneys to better serve rural children, families

Michelle Paxton headshot

The Children’s Justice Attorney Education (CJAE) program, a partnership of Nebraska Law and the Center on Children, Families and the Law, will increase the availability and accessibility of court-appointed and juvenile county attorneys thanks to a grant from the Aviv Foundation. The CJAE will support juvenile attorneys to better serve rural children and families, including low income, Latinx and Indigenous populations.

CJAE was one of two Nebraska projects chosen from the more than 389 proposals submitted for the Springboard Prize for Child Welfare.

“The CJAE will build on the proven practices of the Children’s Justice Clinic,” said Michelle Paxton, '02, director of the clinic and the CJAE. “We plan to provide rural attorneys extensive education in federal and state child welfare laws, along with invaluable information and insights into the subjects necessary to become strong advocates.”

Attorneys participating in the program will receive training in trauma and child development, substance use, domestic violence, complex family dynamics and the Indian Child Welfare Act. During the eight-month program, attorneys will participate in expert case consultation and reflective practice, in which participants reflect on personal biases, thoughts and feelings about cases and use this expanded awareness to improve their advocacy.

“CCFL is equipped with a team of experts that will provide guidance to CJAE participants throughout the program,” said Eve Brank, CCFL director and professor of psychology. “CCFL’s psychologists, attorneys, child welfare practitioners, social workers, mental health practitioners and former state wards will consult  with the program’s participants to allow rural attorneys an opportunity to address complex legal questions in their cases while integrating social and psychological factors to increase their child advocacy skills for underrepresented communities.”

The CJAE is the second project in which the College of Law and CCFL have partnered. The first partnership, the Children’s Justice Clinic, was established in 2017 to train students to serve as guardians ad litem in Lancaster County Juvenile Court.

“We are thrilled to once again be partnering with CCFL to improve the quality of child representation in Nebraska,” said Richard Moberly, dean of the College of Law. “Our mission to develop inclusive leaders goes beyond our current students. The CJAE program reaches into rural communities and helps develop the leaders who are serving the state’s most vulnerable children.”

The innovative CJAE program comes as local, state and federal entities are recognizing the life-changing impact of attorney education in child welfare. In a 2020 survey by Attorney Services, Nebraska judges reported a need for highly educated attorneys, with specialized training in child welfare, to serve in juvenile court. This is particularly true in rural areas. The CJAE program hopes to change that by providing rural attorneys with the knowledge and skills to advocate effectively in juvenile court and by increasing interest and commitment among rural attorneys to work in child welfare.

Attorneys participating in the eight-month CJAE program will receive a stipend at the completion of the program.