Dani practices in the Second Judicial District in Colorado (Denver).
Why did you choose to practice child welfare law?
Being a part of the solution in the child welfare field has been my direction since I was very young. I recall struggling in kindergarten to decide if I was going to be a princess or an attorney when I grew up. I was blessed to personally experience the system with the adoption of my brother. There is an opportunity for an improved and better life for all families involved in the child welfare system when there are common and positive intentions, roles and goals. I feel blessed to work with the youth and families I do today. They constantly are a source of new lessons, outstanding resilience and unwavering hope. The legal field has uniquely added a voice to these youth, which I believe can be a healing process from the initial hearing.
What has been the most rewarding moment for you while working with children and families in the dependency and neglect system?
Watching my youth use the tools and skills in professional and family situations and truly no longer needing my services. Seeing a child advocate for themselves in a courtroom, school meeting, therapy session, etc. is priceless. I have had the honor of attending many graduations and watch the young adult grace the stage as the first generation in their family to obtain a diploma.
Describe a challenge you face doing this work and your strategies to overcome it.
In order to be successful, the youth and family do not need the appropriate services, they need the most culturally cognizant, issue-focused and best personality match services. I think so many times we get into a pattern of having a meeting and selecting whichever service is available. That does not set up anyone for success. We are asking a family and child to engage with a stranger who is going to be communicating with a group of other professionals, that service provider must be relevant in every aspect to that client. Similarly, resources are given in basic lists to our families. That is not always helpful. My strategy is to have my own knowledge of every placement, provider, therapist, clinician, etc. that may be recommended. And then, if none of those feel right, I go find my own Medicaid providers. Same with resources. I continually update my own lists and ensure they are actually credible and will be a successful phone call for my youth and not just another frustrating rejection. The extra work truly creates an efficiency that the child welfare system sometimes lacks. Be your own expert!
What advice do you have for an attorney that is new to child welfare law?
Collaborate. Every professional in a meeting and hearing has a defined separate role. Every professional should be working toward a common goal. From the initial hearing understand the roles and personalities of the professionals on your case. Ask how you can help in order to ensure the best interest of the child is always at the forefront. Never argue in front of a youth or their family. Discuss recommendations prior to a hearing. Make sure roles are not being duplicated; I believe the downfall in some cases is the overload of services. Constantly ask yourself if you could successfully complete the requirements and plans that we are asking of our youth. Be a realistic role model!
What drives you to continue in this line of work?
Details are the sparkle of life. The topics and issues we discuss are large and heavy in the field. I believe as an advocate it is pertinent to use a strength-based approach at all times and pay attention to the details. Understand your youth’s body language, if they have an IEP make sure it is actually working for them and not just a standard modification or two, work in a positive pro social activity that appeals to their passion to balance all of the rigid work, and always know their favorite snack. Food comforts.