Richard Slosman practices in the 20th Judicial District as a Guardian ad litem and Respondent Parent Counsel.
Why did you choose to practice child welfare law?
In the 1990s I worked as a psychotherapist for families and children involved with the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. It was work that developed from a passion in wanting to help people make positive changes in their lives. By the late 90s, I recognized that, as much as I enjoyed addressing the mental health issues of my clients, a guardian ad litem was in a much more potent role to promote lasting positive changes both for clients and also within these systems themselves. That is why I decided on entering law school.
What has been the most rewarding moment for you while working with children and families in the D&N system?
If I may take a bit of license with what is meant by a moment, let me say that the most rewarding experience has been being part of the huge and valuable transformations that have been made in this field over the last couple of decades. Granted, I was on the sidelines for much of it, yelling my disgust like a rabid spectator, but at times I got my hands dirty too. There is so much good that has happened. Much better adherence to legal procedures for protecting rights. Much better understanding of the needs of people and how to use systems to effectuate change. Much better appreciation of the value of helping people make changes for themselves and creating better coordinated services that utilize clients’ own capacity for change…. A particular area important to me has been the recognition of the deleterious effects of emotional trauma and the benefit of using services to create healthy attachment relationships to heal them.
OCR has been essential in facilitating these and other positive changes. It has been an honor to have contracted with OCR.
Alright, I’ll give some discrete moments but I can’t give just one. The youth who was reunited with his father after nine years with the help of the legal system; the mother who, when faced with losing her children, finally came through her substance abuse addictions to work on her own childhood trauma; the child who, with support, was able to stand up to her mother’s abusive behaviors and develop new healthy parenting relationships. It has been a true joy to be part of these and other significant transformations in people’s lives.
Describe a challenge you face doing this work and your strategies to overcome it.
There are so many challenges but one that I would like to address is the seeming vagueness of some of the statutes dictating dependency and neglect law. It took me some years to appreciate and even more to learn the procedures that make this area of law definite and effective. For example, “Best Interest” and “Reasonable Efforts” can sometimes be ambiguous concepts in the law, but learning early on in a case what needs to happen to make a needed change and framing it in terms of services in a treatment plan that is “reasonably calculated” to reunify a child can have a positive lasting impact on these families.
What advice do you have for an attorney that is new to child welfare law?
Listen to your heart, learn the rules (all of them) and follow both.
What drives you to continue in this line of work and do you have any advice for a seasoned attorney?
My advice is to take care of yourself. For me, the drive has never been an issue because there is such an enjoyable—sometimes addictive—quality to working with people, especially children, involved in the child welfare system. This intense work, though, takes a toll. So, it has been essential for me to learn good skills for self-care, healthy boundaries, relaxing vacations….
Share a litigation strategy or case when you were successful despite opposition from other parties to the case.
An unsuccessful contest to a change of venue request by DHS comes to mind. I lost both at the trial level and on appeal (turns out change of venue is not seen as a final order, crazy as it seems). Though I lost, in some very important ways I achieved what my child-client needed.
The change of venue request was made after three years when DHS suddenly realized the child’s family resided 1½ miles into a different county. Change of venue after three years would have been difficult for the child at any point, as she struggles seriously with disorganized emotional attachment capacities. She needs consistency in relationships more so than the average person her age. Change of venue meant change of providers, DHS personnel, and even a judge—all of whom provided her a feeling of emotional security. But change of venue when it was filed was particularly onerous as it came at a time when she was finally beginning to make some progress in therapy. It would have stomped out the small but meaningful steps she was beginning to take. The six months it took the litigation to transpire allowed her to utilize therapy successfully, which would have been impossible had the rug been pulled from under her by changing services and relationships too soon. This was a perfect example to me of why I went to law school. As a psychotherapist, I would have felt overwhelmed by the change of venue request when it was made. As a GAL, I could do something beneficial about it.