April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month
April has been recognized as National Child Abuse Prevention month since April 4, 1983. Following a proclamation issued by President Reagan, the United States has taken a number of additional actions to help protect children and prevent child abuse and neglect, including enacting laws like the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, mandatory reporting requirements, maintenance of central databases documenting reports of child abuse or neglect, and laws that provide funding to agencies and organizations that serve children.
Lawyers and the legal community have been an integral part of preventing child abuse and protecting children. There are lawyers who have dedicated their entire practice to assisting children, and there are other lawyers who incorporate the protection of children into their practice in a variety of ways. Some lawyers are also heavily involved in legislative proceedings to enact laws that serve to protect children, and others publish writings or give presentations that help educate other lawyers, and the public, on these important issues and what can be done to further improve methods for prevention and protection of minors.
Prosecutors and district attorneys/assistant district attorneys handle the legal proceedings in a case brought against an individual who has been charged with child abuse and neglect. This can include determining what charges may be brought, gathering evidence and statements and presenting it to the court, and handling a trial. These lawyers work with many other individuals who aid in the efforts to obtain justice for unspeakable crimes against children, including investigators, social workers, and many others.
Lawyers also serve as guardians ad litem. A guardian ad litem is a lawyer who is appointed by the court to stand in the place of the child during many different types of legal proceedings, including criminal cases involving a child, divorce and custody disputes, and civil matters in which the child has an interest in the outcome of the case. The guardian ad litem has the responsibility of ensuring that the child’s best interests are served by the decisions of the court and the lawyers representing the parties in the case, and will conduct a thorough investigation to determine what those best interests are. The guardian ad litem will then prepare a report to submit to the court which set forth the child’s best interests, and will often also provide testimony on the matter. This ensures that the child has a legal representative who is neutral from any of the other parties involved, and cannot be swayed by the arguments of those parties’ attorneys, but instead, serves only to protect the child and give that child a voice.
Lawyers also assist children who have been harmed through abuse by representing children in civil lawsuits against their abusers, particularly where there has been institutional abuse. Lawyers have represented children who were abused in lawsuits that have been highly publicized cases against well-known organizations and institutions. Not only does this help bring justice for the minor who was abused, it holds responsible parties accountable and helps to bring awareness to the ongoing importance of recognizing the signs of child abuse, knowing how to take action when a child is being abused, and the efforts our nation must continue to take to prevent harms against children.
April is National Child Abuse Prevention month. The following are some ways that lawyers help protect our nation’s children.