Pamela Nelson practices as a Guardian ad Litem in the Third Judicial District.
Why did you choose to practice child welfare law?
During my final year in law school I had the opportunity to work as a Guardian ad litem, as well as assist victims of domestic violence with family law cases. I really enjoyed working with youth and families, so I did not hesitate when I was presented with the opportunity to practice child welfare law in my private practice.
What has been the most rewarding moment for you while working with children and families in the dependency and neglect system?
There are many rewarding moments working in this area. Often, during those stressful bang-your-head-against-the-wall days, when it seems like every teenager is running and every parent is refusing to work with you, it is hard to remember those rewarding moments, but they are there. One of my recent moments was earlier this year when we were able to close a case after successfully reuniting a toddler with his mom. The case had been a hard one and was set for termination, but mom was able to get away from all of the negative influences in her life and get back into treatment, and she did great! With mom finally making progress in her treatment plan, we were able to vacate the termination hearing and give her a little more time to establish her sobriety and stability. My final visit was wonderful. All of the struggle and frustration was worth it to be able to see my little guy so happy and comfortable at home with his mom!
Describe a challenge you face doing this work and your strategies to overcome it.
One challenge in my jurisdiction is a lack of local foster homes. The majority of my kids are placed at least 1.5 hours away. This can make visitation quite difficult. I have not yet overcome this challenge, but I would say that I am working through it by working with all parties involved to find ways to assist with transportation and trying to find creative ways to make sure visits happen.
What advice do you have for an attorney who is new to child welfare law?
ASK! We have a great listserv, wonderful resources at the OCR (staff, pleadings, the GRID…) and so many experienced attorneys willing to talk with you and offer guidance. You should never feel alone or lost when you have so many professionals willing and able to help.
What drives you to continue in this line of work and do you have any advice for seasoned attorney?
The kids drive me. The opportunity to make a difference in the life of our most vulnerable population is at times overwhelming, but it motivates me to be better for them because they deserve it. My advice would be to hold on to those rewarding moments, especially when it feels like they are few and far between.
Share a litigation strategy or case example when you were successful despite opposition from other parties to the case.
Wow, there are so many to choose from over the years; this is truly a difficult question to answer. Candidly, I believe the best litigation strategy in child welfare cases is to ensure that the child (if old enough) is able to form a relationship with you where they feel they can trust decisions you are making on their behalf and they are open to helping you make those decisions. So many times, it seems that the case becomes very parent focused and the child becomes a secondary issue in the case. As a Guardian ad Litem, I feel my role is to ensure the case starts and remains child focused throughout the duration of the case and that the Judges have the ability to form a positive relationship with the children, as well. I have found that as long as the focus of my case remains on the child and that I work to ensure that other parties in the case are focused on this as well, legal outcomes that are best for the child are nearly always accomplished.