In November 1992, six year-old Ayla Rose was shot and killed by her father during a court ordered supervised visitation, after a violent argument with Ayla’s mother. From this tragedy arose a coalition of concerned professionals and parents, united to examine how our legal system failed this little girl. Ultimately, the need was identified for children to have a legal advocate of their own in their parents’ high conflict family court cases. Twenty three years later, CLC has grown to a staff of twelve, a budget of $1.1 million, and operates in twelve of Connecticut’s 13 judicial districts with plans underway to be statewide by the end of 2016 with the inclusion of the Danbury jurisdiction. In 2015, the organization served 2,368 children and families through its programs and services. Today we remain the only organization in Connecticut with this unique mission and have become a national model of excellence.
Nearly 35,000 family court cases involving divorce and custody are filed annually in Connecticut. 50% of these cases involve minor children, 69% of whom are under age 10. Research has shown that children of divorcing parents suffer from depression, sleep disorders, loss of self-esteem, behavioral regression and other emotional problems. Children who live apart from one parent are more likely to drop out of school, have or cause a teen pregnancy, or experience a divorce in adulthood. The longer parental conflict continues, the greater the harm and ongoing trauma and consequences for children. Children in stable homes are better able to perform in school, interact appropriately with peers/siblings, and meet developmental milestones. Research demonstrates at least 75% of contested custody cases involve domestic violence in Connecticut. By helping families work through their conflicts and develop stable homes, we are contributing to transformational changes and the economic turnaround of many families. Many of our recommendations, implemented by the courts, require that parents remain employed, participate in treatment programs, and provide adequate housing for themselves and their children before the court will award them custody.
Children involved in family court are typically legally neglected in a system designed to serve parents engaged in adversarial disputes. In Connecticut, there is a provision for the appointment of counsel when parents do not agree, but if the family cannot afford to pay for an attorney, then the child often goes without representation.
7-Year Old Jonathan was living with his mother,
while his dad was incarcerated. When Jonathan and his mother met with our CLC
attorney, it was clear that mom had significant mental health issues. She was
withdrawn and barely spoke. DCF was brought in and Jonathan was sent to live
with his paternal grandparents, where he has been for some time. In the
meantime, dad was released from prison, but had no job, no place to live. Jonathan’s
mother entered counseling and treatment, showing good signs of progress: her
behavior is now stable, she is on regular medication and is holding down a job.
Dad is also making positive strides, has been compliant with parole, has a job
and an apartment. During this time, Jonathan has remained with his
grandparents. Both parents are anxious to be a part of Jonathan’s life. The court and our attorney have concurred
that it is time to reunify him with his parents. They now share joint custody
and Jonathan is beginning to experience a safe, consistent family environment
with both his mother and father in his life.
The Children’s Law Line is a free, state-wide telephone help
line that answers legal questions and gives advice, information and referrals
to people seeking help with family court issues. Our system to aid and protect
children consists of a maze of agencies, courts, laws and resources that is
often overwhelming even to the most experienced advocates, and simply not
navigable to those of limited means. The Law Line is designed to be an
accessible resource, with the majority of referrals coming from 2-1-1,
Infoline, Statewide Legal Services, DCF, courts, attorneys, the internet and
word of mouth. The phone number is
1-888-LAW-DOOR. In 2016, the Law Line served 1,781 children through 1,225 calls.
The Children’s Law Center advocates for improvements in the legal system that will better safeguard children. We actively participate in ongoing advocacy efforts at the state level; promoting professional development in the legal community concerning the representation of children, and monitoring legislative initiatives related to children and family law.
Because our Legal Representation program is well established and well respected in the legal and mental health communities, CLC does not encounter many challenges in its operation and implementation. The greatest challenge to the Legal Representation program continues to be our capacity to meet the demand for our services. Our New Haven staff attorney carries a full case load at all times and we are forced to turn away cases. As our staff attorney closes a case and we reopen intake, it fills to capacity immediately. The obstacle to meeting this need is funding to support more resources and staff to fulfill the demand. We look forward to increased funding from our New Haven area supporters. Measuring programmatic outcomes has been a challenge. Our organization has garnered great respect and support from the local legal community and at the state levels. Our programs are unique and innovative, and subject to strict client confidentiality. The nature of our work with young child clients does not always allow us to measure long-term outcomes successfully. To address this challenge, we participated in the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving's 18-month Building Evaluation Capacity Program ("BEC") which helped us find more effective ways to measure our outcomes.
We are also encountering challenges with funders in terms of their evolving changes in funding guidelines. In the past, many funders supported a broad range of "human services/basic needs" organizations, in which we are categorized. Priorities are becoming more focused with targeted emphasis on children's literacy, community redevelopment and financial stability, the environment and hunger. Although CLC's services have great impact on the well-being of children and families, we cannot claim a direct correlation to the above focus areas. We have been notified by United Way of Central and Northeast CT that beginning in their fiscal year 2016-17, CLC may no longer fit their guidelines, after many years of support. Other funders have already determined more narrowly focused priorities.
Justine Rakich-Kelly graduated from Western Connecticut University,
cum laude, with a BS in Justice and Law Administration. Between college and law
school she worked in the legal department at Union Carbide doing corporate
divestitures. She earned her law degree from the University of Connecticut in
1991. Upon graduating from law school, Justine began her legal career at
Koskoff, McMahon & Condon in Plainville, Connecticut. In 1993 the Law
Offices of Justine Rakich-Kelly were opened, specializing in juvenile and
family law, with a focus on poverty cases. Justine joined Statewide Legal
Services in 1998 as a legal aid attorney in the Family Unit, and was soon
promoted to manager of the unit. In October of 2000, she was named Executive
Director of The Children’s Law Center.
During Justine’s tenure, Children’s Law Center has been at the forefront of incorporating a mental health component into the process of legal representation of children in family court. The model is the only one of its kind in the state of Connecticut, and has been widely adapted nationally.
Under Justine's leadership, The Children's Law Center has expanded from 3 jurisdictions to 9 jurisdictions, from a full time staff of 2 to a staff of 13, and the annual budget has grown to $1,237,000.00.
Justine is a member of the Connecticut Bar Association, Family section and is a Fellow of the Connecticut Bar Foundation, where she serves on the Education Subcommittee. She is a member of the AFCC and the NACC, and is a tireless advocate for serving the best interest of children in family court. Under Justine's leadership, the Children's Law Center hosts the Statewide Academy of Child Advocate, a work group of professionals dedicated to improving the lives of children whose parents are battling over their custody in court. Finally, Justine continues to serve as a facilitator for the Statewide Training for Guardians ad litem and Attorneys for Minor Children hosted by the State of Connecticut Judicial Branch.
Justine celebrated her 15th year as Executive Director at The Children’s Law Center in 2015.
In 2012 the governance
committee began a review of the by-laws of the organization. At our September
12, 2013 board meeting, term limits were instituted. Going forward, all
new board members will serve a term of three years; current board members will
have the option to serve an additional three year term after which they will
cycle off the board for at least one year. Each current board member is
given an option of extending their term into the next year (2015) or year after
(2016) to avoid a mass exodus at the next Annual Meeting and to allow for a
steady 1/3 off, each year of the 3 year cycle. The by-laws continue to be
reviewed and additional proposals for modifications may be made at future
Each board member is expected to serve on at least one committee and make a financial commitment to the organization.
Indirect Public Support HelpIndirect public support represents revenue received through solicitation campaigns. This includes funding United Way and other federated fundraising organizations, but does not include donor designated contributions.
Earned Revenue HelpEarned revenue represents income generated in direct exchange for a product or service.Earned income includes income from government contracts.
This profile, including the financial summaries prepared and submitted by the organization based on its own independent and/or internal audit processes and regulatory submissions, has been read by the Foundation. Financial information is inputted by Foundation staff directly from the organization’s IRS Form 990, audited financial statements or other financial documents approved by the nonprofit’s board. The Foundation has not audited the organization’s financial statements or tax filings, and makes no representations or warranties thereon. The Community Foundation is continuing to receive information submitted by the organization and may periodically update the organization’s profile to reflect the most current financial and other information available. The organization has completed the fields required by The Community Foundation and updated their profile in the last year. To see if the organization has received a competitive grant from The Community Foundation in the last five years, please go to the General Information Tab of the profile.
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