Advocating as an Attorney

Posted on March 25th, 2015

This post comes from Staff Attorney Barry Chambers. Barry has spent many years working in Child Welfare Law. He’s a very skilled and talented attorney who is happily in “retirement” but still continues to work part time at Child Advocates. 


Before I worked for Child Advocates I worked for DCS as a contractor specifically working their side of CHINS (Child In Need of Services) cases. I was basically recruited into Child Advocates by a friend who was currently working at Child Advocates as a staff attorney.

I started at Child Advocates in 2008 as a staff attorney and functioned as Lead Attorney. I knew a lot about Child Welfare Law. This type of law is what much of my background was in. I worked into the position of Chief Counsel and held it for three years.

As Chief Counsel you have to organize staff to various assignments. You are also a liaison to courts. You are responsible for preparing budgets, coordinating issues with advocates, troubleshooting and taking on cases that might be more difficult or have more profile to them. In this role you don’t supervise as much as guide and answer questions.

So why might you need an attorney on a CHINS case? Well, parents are always represented by an attorney. Whether it is court appointed or private, parents always have individual legal representation to protect their best interests. When there is litigation or a “fact-finding” trail, you need the experience and education/training of an attorney. These types of situations occur usually during TPR cases (termination of parental rights). Attorneys have more experience in knowing what may be “legally” important to a case and are more familiar with evidence for elements that the law legally requires when terminating parental rights.

One thing that is difficult for attorneys in TPR cases is that you don’t actually get to see the kids involved in the case. They often don’t come to court, and it has been the GAL who was previously involved in the case that has experienced their process through the system.

However, I do recall a special case I worked for a 13 year old girl who was an immigrant and in foster care to become a citizen. This child had been adopted into the United States from a town in the USSR. The adoption agency lost track of her because the couple who adopted her did not follow up with reports. The child somehow ended up in southern Indiana with a woman who had many children from several different countries. This woman wouldn’t explain how she had acquired all of the children and she was severely neglecting them. The girl was just one of the children removed from her care by the state.

Her case continued to get even more interesting. Her mother had been a prostitute in the USSR and the baby girl was removed from her. She was adopted out in the USSR, likely sold a couple of times and then adopted out to a couple from the USA. No one is sure how she came to be with the woman in southern Indiana.

When the girl turned 16 she wished to have a green card so she could work. I worked through the system and helped her attain this card and her permanency here in the United States. A few months later I received a letter in the mail with a photograph of her with her green card, thanking me for helping her. That’s an experience I’ll always remember and cherish.