The University of Nebraska College of Law is adding a new legal clinic for third-year law students focusing on child advocacy.
Students in the Children's Justice Clinic will serve as guardians ad litem for children in the child welfare system.
The inaugural course will have eight students and start this fall.
"We are thrilled to add the Children's Justice Clinic to our clinical offering," said Richard Moberly, dean of Nebraska College of Law. "The work that our students will do in the clinic will affect generations of Nebraskans and ensure that the state's youngest residents receive high-quality representation in the juvenile court system."
According to a press release, the clinic will provide practical skills training to law students, as well as help address the state's need for qualified guardians ad litem, or GALs.
A 2009 study by the National Association of Counsel for Children found numerous gaps in the representation of children in the state, concluding that GALs in Nebraska would be well-served by additional training in child development, family dynamics and dysfunction, and by consulting with multidisciplinary experts to provide effective service for children they represent.
The new clinic will work closely with experts at the Center on Children, Families and the Law to provide wide-ranging, cross-disciplinary training.
"In Lancaster County, we need more attorneys not only willing to serve as a GAL, but able to implement best practices to effectively advocate for children," said Lancaster County Juvenile Court Judge Roger Heideman, calling the role critical in juvenile court cases. "Advocating for very young children presents a unique challenge that requires a special skill set."
Clinic students will get training in courtroom skills, federal and state child welfare laws, the child welfare process, child development and trauma in young children, as well as training in areas such as drug and substance abuse and mental health.
Michelle Paxton, director of legal training at the Center for Children, Families and the Law, will supervise students in the clinic. And a multidisciplinary team of psychologists, child welfare practitioners from the center, social workers and mental health practitioners will help on their cases.
The initial funding for the clinic came from private donations, and additional permanent funds still are being raised through the University of Nebraska Foundation.
The Children's Justice Clinic is the newest of the Law College's five clinics, joining the Civil Clinic, Criminal Clinic, Immigration Clinic and Weibling Entrepreneurship Clinic in giving students hands-on experience serving real-world clients.