Non-profit provides legal aid to kids in child protective services

March 13, 2019 10:36 PM

There is a growing number of children entering the child protection system in Hennepin County. Many rely on volunteer lawyers as advocates throughout the process.

“We will go and fight for them, tooth and nail for everything they need,” said Lilia Panteleeva, the executive director of the Children’s Law Center of Minnesota.

On Tuesday, the non-profit entered into another agreement with Hennepin County to help children 10-to-21-years-old, whose parents have lost their rights due to abandonment, abuse or neglect. The agreement runs through Feb. 29, 2020.

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They’ve had a partnership with the county since 2015.

“Imagine you are 12 and you are taken away from your parents and you are thrown into foster care suddenly, with a family you've never met and you don't know why and you don’t know if you're going to go back,” said Panteleeva.

They advocated for 309 children last year in Hennepin County. The need has grown every year.

In 2015 they helped 149 clients county-wide. In 2016, it increased to 203 clients and in 2017 it rose to 248 clients in Hennepin County.

“We were wondering if that increase will eventually plateau and as of right now it has not for us,” she said.

Panteleeva said more children are entering the child protection system, in part, due to an increase in people reporting cases, the opioid epidemic and McKenna’s Law.

The law went into effect in 2017 and requires social workers to tell foster children they have a right to a lawyer.

“[The increase] is something we've been really keeping an eye on,” said County Commissioner Marion Greene. “One of the reasons we've been grateful to the Children's Law Center for providing data is in order to stay abreast of that and stay on top of what their numbers are, how they are growing, if they are growing and being able to be responsive as needed.”

The new agreement includes $153,000 for the non-profit. Greene said they will increase future funding to match the need.

“If these lawyers weren't stepping up and being generous with their time and expertise and heart, then these kids probably wouldn’t have legal representation,” said Greene. “The constancy the lawyer provides is really beneficial to the child in ways well beyond the specifics of the legal case but having a loving adult that cares about their future.”

The Children’s Law Center helps youth outside of Hennepin County as well. They had a total of 927 clients in 2018. They are asking state leaders for $400,000 in both 2020 and 2021 to help meet the demand.

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Callan Gray

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