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Introduction from Kim Dvorchak - NACC's new ED

Thursday, June 15, 2017   (0 Comments)
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I am writing to introduce myself as the new executive director of the National Association of Counsel for Children.  It has been an honor to step into this role over the last month, to engage with our incredible staff in Denver and Atlanta, learn about NACC’s operations, programs, and history, and work with our dedicated board of directors.  Like you, I have committed myself to ensuring the fair treatment of children and families in our legal systems—in practice, in policy, and through collective action.  And it is truly my privilege to support your work safeguarding the rights and well being of children and families, and to partner with you to advance reform on a local, state, and national level.  NACC is grateful for your membership and I look forward to hearing from you about how we can best support your practice and your advocacy.

 

Whether you are a long-time member or new to NACC, we welcome your feedback and hope to be of benefit to you and those you serve throughout your career.  I began my legal career as a public defender in Colorado Springs and New York City, two very different cities that shared a national problem: the criminalization of adolescence --particularly for older, African American, and Latino youth.  While many of my clients had histories or even pending cases in dependency court, they were no longer considered children; they were now offenders to be punished.  Back then my public defender training provided little information on child development, promising interventions, or creative litigation strategies that incorporated child and adolescent development research.  But at Legal Aid in New York, I volunteered to serve on the “JO Team” representing the 13- to 15-year-olds charged as adults, as well as the 16- and 17-year-olds then considered adults under the law (yea for Raise the Age!).  Practicing before Judge Michael Corriero with a team of like-minded attorneys, I developed a passion for youth and family justice.

 

Finally finding a home as a practitioner, I embraced specialization, honed my practice skills and participated in as many local and national trainings as I could.   When my family returned to Colorado after the birth of twin sons, my private practice focused on the defense of youth in adult criminal court.  Again, my investigations included boxes of social services records – tragic histories of children who had experienced multiple traumas, fell through the cracks of a broken system, and who now, before the age of majority, were looking at spending the rest of their lives in prison with no accountability for the systemic failures along the way.  The law was against us and many clients had simply pled out to a “lesser” prison term.

 

Then two teens committed suicide while in solitary confinement in adult jails.  As a community of practitioners, we felt compelled to take a stand against business as usual.  We brought in experts for trainings, developed creative motions in litigation committees, and took on policy reform at the state level.  The Colorado Juvenile Defender Center was born and five years after our first working group meeting, with loads of foundation and national support, we changed the law: Children could no longer be detained in adult jails without a hearing, every child had the right to a reverse-waiver hearing to get back into juvenile court, and sentencing laws were changed to eliminate most mandatory minimums.  People began to recognize that children were in fact children, and that how we treat children and families matters.

 

These reforms are spreading, across the country in large and small communities, because of collective action from advocates, affected youth and communities, and practitioners.  Yes, we really can make a difference.  The other policy area I have extensive experience with is access to counsel and quality of representation—and was honored to share the podium on this topic with NACC, the ABA, and others, while representing the National Juvenile Defender Center (where I most recently served as executive director) at a Congressional Hill Briefing in September.  While my right to counsel work has been in the context of delinquency court, the parallels to dependency court are numerous (check out the TEDx talkI gave last year to help launch the Gault! at 50 campaign).   Regardless of what courthouse door they enter, all children and families are entitled to dignity, equity, and due process of law – and that includes the right to counsel.

 

I believe in the power of community – a community to support practitioners in an individual case or on a really bad (or good!) day; a community to share learning and ideas and develop creative strategies for clients; and a community that can come together to exercise a collective voice that ups our game and changes law and practice for the well being of children and families.  That is why I applied to lead the National Association of Counsel for Children and what I aim to achieve with you. 

 

This year we begin celebrating NACC’s 40th Anniversary!  40 years of standing up for children and families and changing the landscape of child welfare law and practice.   From the third edition of the Red Book, to a decade of Child Welfare Law Specialists, to 40 years of NACC’s Annual Child Welfare, Juvenile, and Family Law Conference, this community has established the highest standards of practice, incorporated multi-disciplinary practice, and advanced the cause of justice for children and families.  We look forward to launching this celebration at the NACC Conference in New Orleans this August and throughout the next year.

 

As we look to strategic planning for 2018 and beyond, and with new leadership, the moment is ripe for reflection on all we have achieved together and what we aim to build for the future of NACC.   In the next few weeks, we will be asking you to participate in a member survey.   This survey will give our team a fresh starting point for thinking about how we can best support your work and advance our collective voice for justice.  But please feel free to reach out anytime.  I live in Takoma Park, Maryland near Washington DC, and travel monthly to the Denver office.  I’m available by phone or email or in person as our mutual locations may permit – and I hope to see you in New Orleans!  Thank you for the work you do every day, and thank you for your membership and your support for NACC. 

 

 

Kim Dvorchak, J.D., Executive Director
National Association of Counsel for Children
Kim.Dvorchak@NACCchildlaw.org
Office 303-864-5322  Mobile 303-601-4900


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