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How to Become a Child Advocate Lawyer

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Child advocate lawyers work to protect the rights of children, legally representing them in court actions that affect their welfare. A child may need legal representation in a contested custody case or for a case involving allegations of physical violence or abuse. Child advocate lawyers provide legal counsel to children in foster care and represent children who witness crime or are the victims of crime or have special education needs.

Earn a Law Degree

Before becoming a child advocate lawyer, you must earn a law degree and pass a written bar examination in the state where you intend to practice. You must complete four years of undergraduate study before entering law school. Most states require lawyers to have a Juris Doctor, which generally takes another three years, from a law school accredited by the American Bar Association. You must be admitted to the state’s bar to be licensed.

Meet State Requirements

In addition to earning a law degree, child advocate lawyers often must meet specific educational requirements mandated by the states in which they practice. Some states require child advocate lawyers to complete continuing education courses related to family law, child welfare law, domestic violence and criminal defense. While states vary in their training requirements, taking courses in psychology and sociology helps prepare child advocate lawyers for working with children who have been abused, neglected or traumatized. To represent a child’s best interests, a child advocate must have a thorough understanding of the juvenile court process, family court procedures and federal, state and local laws.

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Pass a Background Check

As of 2014, 16 states required criminal background checks for individuals acting as guardians ad litem, reports the Child Welfare Information Gateway. A lawyer who represents a child as a guardian ad litem acts in the child’s best interests even if the child wants something different. A comprehensive background check involves a name search and fingerprint check to identify whether an individual has a criminal history. Screening may also include a check of the state child abuse and neglect registry. Comprehensive background checks often include a check of the sex offender registry as well. Although states vary in their requirements for background checks, all have established policies for conducting state and federal criminal history record checks.

Know the Public Education Laws

Not all child advocate lawyers fight in the courtroom for children’s rights. Some fight in the school districts by legally representing children with disabilities and developmental delays in special education disputes. When there is a question about a child’s individualized education program, a lawyer advocates for the child by negotiating with school administrators to reach a satisfactory resolution before the case goes to a judge. The attorney works on the child’s behalf in getting the services and supports he needs and is entitled to receive under the law. An advocate lawyer who works in education understands the law and a school district’s legal obligation to provide a child with a quality education.

Consider the Employment Stats

Child advocate lawyers work for private law firms, nonprofit organizations, public legal aid services and government agencies. Some child advocate lawyers eventually become organization administrators or move into areas such as government lobbying and law-school administration. Salaries for lawyers, including child advocate lawyers, vary considerably according to experience, legal specialty, practice location and type of employer, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Many private lawyers volunteer their services working pro bono for government-funded and nonprofit child advocacy programs. Despite competition, the job outlook for lawyers in general is expected to grow 10 percent from 2010 to 2022, according to the 2014 BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook, which is on par with the average estimated growth for all occupations.

About the Author

Amber Keefer has more than 25 years of experience working in the fields of human services and health care administration. Writing professionally since 1997, she has written articles covering business and finance, health, fitness, parenting and senior living issues for both print and online publications. Keefer holds a B.A. from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and an M.B.A. in health care management from Baker College.

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