Alternative Break - HOPE Students Assist Dependent Children in Guardian ad Litem Program

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After two weeks of final exams and late-night studying, Miami Law students were eager to take a 4-week hiatus from classes and schoolwork during winter break. Many students used this time to reset: relaxing on the beaches of Key Biscayne, returning home to catch up with family, and celebrating the new year with loved ones. 

Students Maddie Seales, Julie Hochsztein, and Brittany Frizzelle, with Guardian ad Litem staff

Four Miami Law students also seized the opportunity to further develop their legal skills while giving back to some of the most vulnerable children in Florida through an alternative break with Guardian ad Litem at the Children’s Court in downtown Miami. The HOPE Public Interest Resource Center develops alternative breaks to ensure that law students have the chance to expand their skill sets while providing much-needed services to agencies and communities.

The GAL program works with Florida’s abused, abandoned, and neglected children in dependency court. GAL attorneys provide these children with legal representation in court while working cooperatively with social service agencies and GAL employees and volunteers to implement a plan that will further the children’s best interest. The Miami Law volunteers spent a full week observing court proceedings and assisting with case research. In addition, the students met with various judges and attorneys and had the chance to discuss some of the most challenging aspects facing children in the dependency system. 

“Child dependency is complex. It was a pleasure to introduce the child dependency system to the law students through the perception of a child advocate,” said GAL Child Advocacy Manager, Olga Hernandez, who helped make the experience possible. “The students were able to see how imperative it is not to lose sight of the reason we advocate. The hours they spent on research will positively change a child’s life tomorrow.”

The opportunity allowed the law students to immerse themselves in an area of law that was new to many of them. 2L Miami Scholar Maddie Seales said, “The GAL alternative break gave me the opportunity to observe both dependency and delinquency court, which I never had seen before and which are so different from criminal court. I also got to research religious exemptions under the Florida Constitutions as they relate to child abuse, medical neglect, and the termination of parental rights. This experience has definitely made me want to do more work with children in dependency court.” 

The Miami Law students’ work during the week might have a far-reaching impact. “I assisted with research that may lead to a legislative change in Tallahassee to protect young victims' confidentiality and privacy from the potential release of forensic interviews, which is especially important in today's social media environment,” said 2L Miami Scholar Julie Hochsztein.

The week-long program was a positive experience for the GAL program as well. “It was a pleasure to host students from Miami Law and have them assist the Guardian ad Litem Program in advocating for children in care,” said Jessica Allen, Esq., a GAL Circuit Director in Florida who appreciated the students’ hard work. 

“With nearly 2,000 children currently in the dependency system in Miami-Dade County, it takes a village to make sure that their safety, permanency, well-being and legal needs are met. We are grateful to have these students as part of that village.”

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Interested in participating in an alternative break program over Fall, Winter, or Spring break? Email umhope@law.miami.edu for information about current opportunities.