Southwestern Students and Alumni Help Join Families During Adoption Day
It was difficult to tell whose smiles were brighter - the newly adopted children and their parents, or their advocates who had worked with them to get to this special day - during the recent adoption hearings at Edelman Children's Courthouse in Monterrey Park. The emotion-filled hearings marked the culmination of Adjunct Professor Amy Pellman's Children and the Law course.
"In this process, the students have an opportunity to experience a wide range of lawyering skills," Judge Pellman said. "First, they are in the role of an associate working with a partner on an adoption. They are learning how best to interact with a supervisor. In this same vein, they could be networking with that lawyer and helping their chances for obtaining a job after law school. They are learning interviewing skills and issue spotting. When they interview the families, they are responsible for assessing the adoption benefit and deciding whether it is correct for the child's level of needs."
Casey J. Marticorena '07, who works as a family law attorney in Pasadena, co-coordinated Adoption Day 2009 with Joanna Sanchez '07 by acting as a liaison between the pro bono attorneys, students and Public Counsel. The attorneys oversaw the progress of each adoption case in order to assure timely filing of all paperwork and that each adoptive family receives the appropriate benefits.
When she was a student, Marticorena participated in National Adoption Day. "Now, as an attorney, I am able to have more of a one-on-one relationship with the adoptive parents and the children," she said. "The students were responsible for preparing the Judicial Council Forms and interviewing the adoptive parents. They were very professional during the visit to the adoptive parents' homes."
Second-year day student Arpie Jivalagian worked with Marticorena. "This has been a great experience," Jivalagian said. "It opens your eyes to a different world, and it gives you a great feel for how the system works."
Public Counsel conducted a training session during one of Judge Pellman's classes where all participating attorneys and students were present. Students then worked individually or in pairs with alumni to finalize the adoptions. They drafted letters, either met face to face with the family or had conference calls, completed the actual forms for the adoption, advocated for the AAP rate (Adoption Assistance Program) for which the child was entitled, appeared at the hearing and took the parents' testimony in court. Judge Stephen Marpet finalized several of the adoptions that day, saying, "As a judge, this is the best thing you ever do, bar none."
Judge Pellman, a former senior trial attorney with Dependency Court Legal Services and legal director for the Alliance for Children's Rights, has had a great deal of experience with adoptions on both sides of the bench, and was the recipient of the American Bar Association's distinguished Child Advocacy Law Award. During her tenure with the Alliance, a "National Adoption Day" was established to highlight the need for adoptive parents for children in the foster care system. That program has since grown exponentially so that now every state participates.
Children who grow up in foster care often have an array of psychological, physical and educational challenges, and therefore the need for competent legal assistance. "Foster parents, many of whom are relatives, need legal support in order to help the children they adopt thrive and grow into productive adults," Judge Pellman said. "The system is so large that often many social workers have been assigned to the child's case, and this invariably leads to mistakes. The students (along with the pro bono attorneys) have a huge responsibility to ensure nothing is missed at this last stop to a permanent loving home."