Pro Bono Program Provides DCF Children With Lawyers

, The Connecticut Law Tribune

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Ernie Teitell
Ernie Teitell

Children who need special educational services may have slipped through the cracks in the past.

But a new program — called the Connecticut Child Justice Foundation — aims to help keep children who are under the supervision of the Department of Children and Families in the best possible learning environments.

The goal of the new foundation, which relies on pro-bono efforts of several experienced lawyers throughout the state, is to make sure that each child under DCF supervision is provided with legal representation during expulsions, suspensions, and administrative actions, including requests for special education tutors and programs.

Most of the children have experienced troubled home-lives because of abuse or neglect. Their backgrounds and lack of family support can make such children vulnerable to being denied needed services. The new program makes sure every such child has a lawyer in his or her corner.

Joette Katz, the Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Children and Families, came up with the idea shortly after she became commissioner. "We saw a lot of kids whose legal needs weren't being met."

Katz said that in a random 4 hours, she was able to pull up 40 cases where DCF children needed legal services.

One of the first things Katz did, was get together with the two co-founders of the program, lawyers Ernie Teitell and Richard Bieder.

"I go to Ernie and I asked if he'd please do this," Katz said, adding that she and Teitell are old friends. "When I took this position, I didn't sever my ties to the legal community," said Katz, a former state Supreme Court justice.

Teitell, of Silver Golub & Teitell, said as part of the new program, he is representing a special education student in the Thompson school district who is being deprived of special education services. Just knowing that he has someone who cares is itself a positive thing, Teitell said.

"We have had a number of cases with successes," he said.

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