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Clinic Students Fight for Children to be Present for Their Day in Court

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Miami Law's Children and Youth Law Clinic filed an amicus brief recently in the Florida Supreme Court to end the routine exclusion of children from court.

The 30-page brief was filed in partnership with Florida's Children first, a statewide children's advocacy organization, Florida Youth SHINE, a youth-run organization working to change the culture of Florida's foster care system, and Legal Aid Service of Broward County. Two Miami Law students – 2L intern Melissa Rossman and 3L fellow Caitlin Currie Saladrigas – worked on the brief with Professor Bernard Perlmutter, Director of the Children and Youth Law Clinic, along with a co-counsel from Florida's Children First.

"In the brief we comment on an amendment to the Florida Rules of Juvenile Procedure by the Florida Bar's Juvenile Rules Committee," explains Perlmutter. "The rule amendment seeks to end the routine exclusion of children from the forum where their fates are decided by increasing their participation in dependency court proceedings. However, it does not contain explicit standards to ensure that children are present at all hearings and it allows the court to conduct hearings in the child's absence without confirming why the child is absent."

The brief asserts that the revision to the rule does not go far enough to protect the rights of children, and it urges the Court to adopt language that more forcefully articulates the responsibility of the dependency system to assure the presence of children in court.

"We argue that without the presence in the courtroom of the person whose life is ultimately affected by the judge's decisions, the court is not fully apprised of all of the facts because it has not directly heard from or seen the child," says Perlmutter. "We rely on constitutional law, international human rights, federal and state law, and therapeutic jurisprudence considerations to support our arguments that the Supreme Court should adopt a rule that guarantees that children have a meaningful opportunity to be heard in our state dependency courts."