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Lawyers for Children America

Lawyers for Children America
Priscilla Pappadia
Executive Director
Legal Practice Area: 
Juvenile Justice and Truancy Intervention
Why is this assistance important to these clients? 
Children need individual representation during child protection proceedings to ensure that their best interests are served.
What legal strategies do the pro bono lawyers use to assist the clients? 
Representation at Juvenile Court proceedings and DCF administrative hearings.
What are the outcome goals of this assistance? 
To ensure that each child's safety, medical, mental health, and educational needs are met, to ensure permanent placements.
Give a short (1-paragraph) case example: 
LFCA is fortunate to have many capable and experienced attorney volunteers. We are especially grateful to have Attorney Sheila Huddleston, a partner with the Hartford firm of Shipman & Goodwin, LLP as a volunteer. Attorney Huddleston represented the legal interests of one of our child clients not only at the Connecticut Appellate Court but all the way to the Connecticut Supreme Court. The decision handed down by the Supreme Court in this case clarifies the issue of out of court statements made by children during abuse /neglect investigations and their admissibility in court.<br><br>At the initial neglect trial the psychologist deemed it to be harmful for the child to testify in court about the statements made to police, social workers and the psychologist during the investigation. The Department of Children and Families’ position was that the children can be harmed by the very system that is designed to protect them. The statements were allowed in without the child having to testify.<br><br>Under the rules of evidence, out of court statements are not allowed unless the person who made them is unavailable under the rules or testifies where they can be cross examined by counsel preserving the constitutional right of confrontation. Testifying in court is upsetting for anyone but for a child it could be very damaging psychologically especially when the statements are made against a parent or caretaker. <br><br>The issue before the court in this case involved the admissibility of the out of court statements the child made during the investigative phase of an abuse / neglect allegation against the child’s custodial parent and whether one of the permissible exceptions to the rule applied. <br><br>Both of the children reported witnessing domestic violence and substance abuse by the mother and her boyfriend, which included driving under the influence with the children in the car, being subjected to verbal and physical abuse and being locked in a room as punishment by the mother’s boyfriend. <br><br>A report was made to the DCF hotline and an investigation was opened. The children were found to have been neglected. The mother appealed the trial court’s decision to the state appellate court. The Appellate Court, relying on the rationale that the testimony of abused children requires special consideration agreed with the trial court’s decision. The mother appealed to the Connecticut Supreme Court which concluded that the Appellate Court correctly found that the statements made by the children were admissible at the trial. <br><br>When a case is appealed and goes to the Appellate and then the Supreme Court it requires an enormous time commitment and legal expertise. The outcome here will benefit all child victims and prevent them experiencing the harm and the trauma of having to testify in court when they tell a caring adult about abuse or neglect they are experiencing at home.

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