NACC honors Colorado state agency with Outstanding Children’s Law Office/Agency award
The National Association of Counsel for Children (NACC) has named the Colorado Office of the Child’s Representative (OCR) its 2023 “Outstanding Children’s Law Office/Agency.” NACC presents annual Promoting Excellence Awards honoring “individuals and organizations making significant contributions to the rights and well-being of children and families through excellence in legal representation.” OCR’s award was presented at NACC’s 46th National Child Welfare Law Conference (https://naccchildlaw.org/).
“OCR exemplifies best practices in an agency/contract model and provides strong leadership to advance youth rights in Colorado,” the award reads. “Prioritizing youth voice and lived expertise, OCR created a Lived Expert Action Panel and a dedicated Engaging and Empowering Youth Attorney position. The agency also advances multidisciplinary representation by adding social work professionals, creating a case consultant model, and drawing upon Title IV-E funding to enhance legal services and training. OCR also sought to make improvements in diversity, equity, and inclusion, performing an agency evaluation and adding a new EDI staff attorney position to address disparities in practice and policy. In 2022, OCR led the effort to change state law and the model of representation for children and youth 12 years of age or older from a best interest to a client-directed model in dependency and neglect proceedings, and in 2023 OCR secured an 18% increase for contract attorneys to $100/hour.”
OCR’s Deputy Director Sheri Danz emphasizes that this award is foremost a reflection of the efforts of hundreds of attorney Guardians ad litem (GALs), Counsel for Youth (CFY), and Child’s Legal Representatives (CLRs) throughout Colorado: “OCR attorneys enter the life of a child or youth during a critical time and play a crucial role in advocating for services, appropriate and safe placements, and judicial decisions that protect immediate safety, preserve family connections, and promote long-term success. Youth in OCR’s cases have skilled and knowledgeable attorneys to represent their interests and give them a voice in the legal proceedings that will profoundly impact their health, safety, and well-being. We are fortunate to be in a state where our General Assembly, the legal community, and other stakeholders understand the importance of strong legal representation for youth.”
Executive Director Chris Henderson adds, “I am grateful to the dedication of OCR’s staff and the many attorneys and case consultants who provide legal representation to Colorado’s youth. I am proud of the work our attorneys and staff do day in and day out under increasingly challenging circumstances, and I am amazed by the resilience, persistence, and insight of the youth they represent.”
The youth on OCR’s caseload are involved in complex legal proceedings. In dependency and neglect (D&N) proceedings, they have been removed from their homes or face the risk of removal due to allegations of child abuse or neglect. In delinquency proceedings, they face serious potential consequences associated with detention, out-of-home placement, and the long-term impacts of justice system involvement for mistakes made during formative developmental years. OCR attorneys serve youth in these and over eight other case types, often through a multidisciplinary representation model that includes specialized case consultants as members of the legal team. In every context, the youth that OCR attorneys serve have often experienced extensive trauma histories and come from challenging home and life circumstances.