Brad Bittan takes delinquency appointments in the 2nd JD and provides Education Litigation Support for OCR.
Why did you choose to practice child welfare law?
My parents. Despite lives filled with many challenges, they made sure that their children would be provided with the opportunities to meet their potential. Feeling so blessed, I wanted to help provide those opportunities to other children who faced significant disadvantages in their lives.
What has been the most rewarding moment for you while working with children and families in the delinquency system?
There have been many, including those instances when children can benefit through special education services. A singular rewarding moment occurred when I was appointed as guardian ad litem in a direct filed case. Defense counsel and I successfully advocated for the case to be transferred to juvenile court. I cannot think of a scenario where it could be in a child’s best interests for her/his case to be in adult court and face unimaginably horrifying circumstances. Therefore, this case was a very exciting opportunity to collaborate with defense counsel because the stakes were so high.
Describe a challenge you face doing this work and your strategy to overcome it.
Effectively engaging the parent/guardian’s support in their child’s case.
Parents/guardians sometimes feel frustrated with GAL involvement because of a perception that we are trying to take over their role. When you think about it, the parent/guardian is perhaps the only involved individual in the delinquency case who does not have the benefit of a lawyer or other informed professionals to help them navigate this process. Ironically, the parent/guardian remains one of if not the best opportunity to engage the child and hopefully redirect his or her behaviors.
I have learned from the research that engaging parents in delinquency court beneficially impacts recidivism. A child often relies on what a parent thinks about a situation. Most of all, a parent values being treated fairly by the process even more than whether their child wins her/his case. So if the parent/guardian feels good about the process, the child is more likely to feel the same way. Another finding from the research is that parents/guardians talk about the juvenile justice system with each other in their neighborhoods. If courts make active efforts to engage them, it produces an improved civic mindset about the concept of justice and eventually helps to reduce the level of crime in the community.
It was due to these kinds of circumstances that I decided to author a parent/guardian handbook in Denver Juvenile Court. My hope is that the handbook will enhance the overall quality of the parent/guardian’s relationship with the professionals. My other hope is that it will further empower them to help their child during the case. If the parent/guardian is effectively engaged, the process works better for everyone. Most importantly, for the child.
Share a litigation strategy or case example when you were successful despite opposition from other parties to the case.
During a sentencing hearing, every involved professional in the case other than myself (and defense counsel) recommended that the child be committed to the Division of Youth Corrections. There was a strong factual basis for their recommendation. Previously, the child had multiple adjudications and probation revocation petitions filed against him. However, my sentencing recommendation was to maintain the child in the community. This recommendation was based upon my investigation that included detailed contact with the child’s law enforcement advocate (LEA) who had spent meaningful time with the child. The LEA mentioned to me that when this child was on track, he was respectful, focused on objectives, personable, and had the potential to do what the court expected of him. He further believed that the child was still young enough to salvage the mess that he made for himself. Most significantly, the LEA expressed that he was more than willing to remain involved in the child’s life. No other professional brought this information to the attention of the court. When the court heard this update, it formed the factual basis for the court to give this child an opportunity to demonstrate compliance in the community.
This litigation strategy was based on the Chief Justice Directive’s mandate that a GAL conduct a timely, independent, comprehensive, and ongoing investigation. It demonstrated that such an investigation has real value and can truly make a difference for a child.
What advice do you have for an attorney who is new to child welfare law?
Practice the 3Cs: Be calm, caring, and competent.
What drives you to continue in this line of work and do you have any advice for the seasoned attorney?
There’s always another child to help. I sometimes correlate the GAL’s role to an emergency room technician and aftercare specialist. The first step is to help stabilize the crisis. Then it’s about helping the child heal. Eventually, it’s helping to build foundations so that the child can eventually flourish. So my advice is to celebrate the small victories along the way. It’s a gradual process but the possible rewards to the child, and by extension the GAL, can be huge and last a lifetime.