Providing Legal Representation During Covid-19: It Isn’t All Bad!

Providing Legal Representation During Covid-19: It Isn’t All Bad!

It goes without saying that this past year has been tough. Like most businesses, The Children’s LAW Center has had to change the way that we provide services to our clients in all of our programs, most prominently our Legal Representation program. Yet, while the pandemic has posed significant challenges, it has also provided opportunities to positively reshape how we represent children in high-conflict family court cases.

For over a year now, the courts have been shut down in varying degrees, and regular in-person court appearances are relatively non-existent. When the court implemented a system to schedule court dates virtually over video, the floodgates opened and, with very little notice, the CLC staff attorneys were up and running with more-than-full caseloads and a calendar full of “remote” court dates.  The virtual arena naturally extended to our case work, meeting parents and children virtually. The result at CLC is clear: in most instances, it is possible to work remotely and do so in a way that does not compromise our ability to provide child focused recommendations to the court.

CLC’s Attorney, David Coughlin, finds that talking to children has been easier compared to meeting children in person. Because travel- time is eliminated, there is increased availability for the attorneys as well as the clients which allows for more frequent contact. Children have been attending school virtually so, for them, now it was natural to be speaking with their GAL virtually.

David also observed that a child who is at home is in comfortable surroundings and not facing a total stranger in person or being asked to speak to a total stranger in an unusual location such as the CLC offices. Even when David meets a child in-person outdoors it can be awkward: Now the child is being asked to talk to a stranger in a mask!

Many of the same tools used to engage children in person can be used when meeting a child virtually. For instance, David has stuffed animals in the room and this prompts many younger clients to show him their stuffed animals, starting a natural conversation. When clients have even walked around and given a tour of their room and their house with their phone.

As has been true with virtual court appearances, people tend to view the virtual format as more casual. David pointed out that meeting a child virtually has allowed him to see homes in their normal state and not as prepared for a stranger to visit. He often hears how a parent and other members of the household interact in the background, which can be very telling. There is a valid concern that children may be influenced by the parent in the home. When David notices a child speaking in a whisper or glancing back, he knows that the child is concerned someone is listening. All of this informs the investigation.

CLC’s staff social worker, Nicole Silva, agrees that accessibility is the greatest benefit that has come from transitioning to a virtual format. Nicole must be in touch with multiple providers for each child and, because most providers have also had to make the shift to virtual, Nicole has been able to schedule “team meetings” when she would traditionally have had to meet with each separately. Meetings involving multiple providers simultaneously allows for more in-depth collaboration and a more focused plan for a child.

Even when in-person meetings are no longer a thing of the past, we will continue to use this format as long as it provides a positive tool for facilitating better outcomes for our clients. CLC’s commitment to helping at risk children live in safer, more stable homes is as strong as ever. We are pleased that we’ve adapted our operations to covid-restrictions and are continuing to lead with excellence through a challenging year.