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Attorneys for the Children program in recruitment mode

By: Nora A. Jones//April 13, 2016

Attorneys for the Children program in recruitment mode

By: Nora A. Jones//April 13, 2016

1 Williams, Troutman, Wade
Presenting information about the Attorneys for the Children program were panel members Sandra Williams, Justice Shirley Troutman and Yolanda Asamoah-Wade.

The Appellate Division, Fourth Department has 750 attorneys trained and willing to represent children under the Unified Court System’s Attorneys for the Children (AFC) program.

Sounds like a lot until you split that up over 22 counties and realize the actual number of matrimonial cases in New York State that involve contested child custody, plus the number of PINS (person in need of supervision) and  JD (juvenile delinquency) cases. Then add to that child welfare cases (abuse and neglect), termination of parental rights, and revocation of adoption consent.

To raise awareness of the need for AFCs, and to explain eligibility and training requirements, the Rochester Black Bar Association partnered with the local appellate court providing a lunch-time professional development opportunity on April 11.

Justice Shirley Troutman opened the one-hour program by explaining that those who don’t typically work in Family Court may not realize how much emotion comes into play, clouding the parents’ logic.

“Attorneys for the Children are very important,” noted the Appellate Division, Fourth Department associate justice. “An advocate for the child helps to present a clear picture to the court without the bias of one parent or the other.”

Tracy Hamilton, director of the AFC program for the Fourth Department, talked briefly about the payment system ($75 per hour for both in and out-of-court time) and timely processing of vouchers.

“If you use direct deposit, you’ll often get your payment within a week after the voucher is turned in at the end of a case,” Hamilton shared.

She also explained that although an AFC may be discretionary in child custody matters, the court must appoint an AFC for all child welfare, PINS and JD cases. Unfortunately, the caseload is continuous.

Yolanda Asamoah-Wade has served as an AFC for many years and shared her story about getting involved.

“I was an educator in grades K-12 before I became an attorney,” Wade said, noting that her most dynamic legal career interview was at Legal Aid of Rochester. “It was just a natural fit for me.”

Wade who is multi-lingual and has living on multiple continents has a particularly good grasp of cultural nuances, which helps her both in her private law practice and in AFC cases.

Pertaining to her AFC experience, Wade shared her observations about how parents can be manipulative and controlling, making it seem sometimes like you have to walk a tight rope.

“But you are working for yourself, and being an advocate for a child is very gratifying,” she added. “You have to remember that kids have a short attention span so sometimes that means you have to get on the floor and play with them to gain their trust and confidence.”

Sandra Williams returned to Rochester just two years ago after many years in Europe. As she worked to get acquainted with Rochester’s legal community, she met Surrogate Court Judge John Owens at a social event and took up his suggestion that she pursue being an Attorney for the Children.

“It’s very rewarding and it is very challenging,” Williams, who started her own private practice, admitted. “It can be tough to negotiate peace when advocates for the parents are fighting with all they’ve got.”

Associate Director of the Fourth Department’s AFC program, Linda Kostin, spent a few minutes reviewing the eligibility requirements, the training and support program, and passed around a sign-up sheet for those who might wish to apply for the October 2016 training program.

The October training will be near Albany, as the Third and Fourth Departments pool resources for the intensive two-day training, which provides 13 continuing education credits at no cost to trainees.

Continuing designation as an AFC requires 5.5 CLE credits every two years. The AFC program offers several seminars each year to help AFC’s stay current and accredited.

Foreign language proficiency is a big plus for AFC applicants, but certainly not required. What is required are meaningful courtroom experiences in PINS and JD proceedings.

“I can help facilitate those courtroom experiences,” Kostin noted. “We have many attorneys with years of experience that would be happy to have you shadow them for a case or two.”

If you are thinking of getting involved, there is no time like the present to get some guidance from Hamilton or Kostin, and complete your application process. The application process for the October training will start in the next few weeks.

2_Hamilton, Troutman, Foote
Director of the Fourth Department’s Attorneys for the Children program, Tracy Hamilton, left, with Fourth Department Associate Justice Shirley Troutman and Lenora Foote, executive assistant to Presiding Justice Gerald J. Whalen.












3_Shepard, Kostin
Membership chair for the Rochester Black Bar Association Zuleika Z. Shepard pauses for a photo with Linda Kostin, associate director of the Fourth Department’s Attorneys for the Children program.














4_Mitchell, Wright
RBBA President Shani Mitchell catches up with RBBA committee leader Franz Wright.


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