Vol. 7, No. 1• November 2002

Resource Spotlight: Advocates for Children's Services

by Kira Weiss

“The test of the morality of a society is what it does for
its children.” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Adopting this simple yet powerfully insightful quote as its rallying cry, Advocates for Children’s Services (ACS) is fighting for children’s rights in North Carolina. A special program of Legal Aid of North Carolina, ACS provides free legal representation to children across the state who need medical, psychiatric, special education, or foster care/adoption services. Priority is given to children who are involved in the foster care system, and emphasis is placed on securing the services promised to children under three federal government programs:

  1. The Medicaid program promises early and periodic screening, diagnosis, and treatment

  2. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) promises a free, appropriate, public education

  3. The Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) promises speedy, permanent placement

ACS often succeeds in getting children appropriate services and a safe, permanent home. But, because the promises of health care, special education, and safe, permanent families have never been fully funded at the state or national level, and because children are denied lawyers to assert their rights to such services, there are many stories that end sadly despite ACS’s and others’ efforts.

In addition to being concerned with the effects of underfunding children’s services, ACS also finds it disturbing that current social policy sanctions the exclusion of children themselves from the dialogue surrounding their rights under the 3 big federal promises. Favoring a grassroots approach to action on behalf of children, ACS urges the young adults affected by this unwritten policy of exclusion, along with those adults who support them (such as foster parents, family members, social workers, and educators), to stand up and be counted.

Take Action

Wondering how you can help a child have a voice in decisions that affect his or her own life?

  • Ask a child what he or she wants before making any decisions that will seriously impact his or her life, and seriously consider any requests he or she makes.

  • Help ensure that all children involved in the foster care system attend all their court hearings and all other meetings at which important decisions are made about them. Help children prepare to participate in the hearing/meeting by discussing with them what to expect and how to best express their wishes.

  • There is strength in numbers—join the North Carolina Foster Parents Association and your local foster parent association and figure out how to advance your agenda together. If there isn’t a local chapter, start one.

  • Encourage foster children you know to join SaySo (Strong, Able Youth Speaking Out, <http://sayso-nc.tripod.com/>), the wonderful statewide advocacy organization for young adults involved in the foster care system.

  • Contact a group such as ACS any time you or a child suspect a child’s rights have been violated.

By doing these things you will be empowering a child today and laying the critical foundation for independence later. A child who knows how to advocate for him or herself possesses the most powerful tool there is for success in life.

For more information about Advocates for Children’s Services, call (919) 865-7200, e-mail [email protected], write PO Box 26087, Raleigh, NC 27601, or visit www.LegalAidNC.org. ACS welcomes your comments.

Kira Weiss is an Americorps Volunteer with ACS.

Copyright 2002 Jordan Institute for Families