Who's looking out for abused,
Orange County is unique in how it serves kids in court. That's not necessarily a good thing.
neglected or abandoned kids?
Orange County is the only one in Florida that provides legal representation to abused, neglected or abandoned kids exclusively with attorneys. In other counties, children are represented by trained volunteers who don’t necessarily have to be lawyers. That system was adopted everywhere else in the state after a pilot program determined in 2003 that it was the most effective means of representing kids. Volunteers – often retired social workers – are there because they want to be there. They have the time to devote to the cases. Many become not only a protector for their kids, but also a trusted friend.
Of course, some of the lawyers in Orange County volunteer because they want to help kids. But others do it because they are required to fulfill a pro bono requirement -- and that raises questions of motive.
Before 1999, Orange County handily outperformed the rest of the state in terms of representation rates. But now the situation is flipped. While counties on the volunteer system have reported soaring success rates, some doubling the number of kids that get legal representation, Orange County struggles with low rates, long wait times for assigning an ad litem and lack of attorney availability.
Read the Orlando Weekly article here.