In Focus: Commissioner Thomas C. Keith

How much is a child in South Carolina worth?

That’s the question that Commissioner Thomas C. Keith asked in his Op-Ed in Friday’s The State newspaper.

And, it’s likely you’re not going to like the answer - LESS THAN CONNECTICUT.  A LOT LESS.

In Connecticut, each child in poverty is allocated $1,052 a year via TANF, whereas in South Carolina that same program allocates only $179 a year per child.

And in his Op-Ed, Mr. Keith is urging Congress to do the right thing, fund each child living in poverty according to poverty level, not according to “state” advantages.

Good job Commissioner Keith!

-RFW

Friday Wrap 5.29.09

All the week’s “atj” newsworthy items wrapped up

Friday Wrap Friday Wrap

Texas – Texas Access to Justice Commission and Foundation Recognize Major Contributors to Texas Legal Aid

Chicago, Illinois - ABA Invites Obama to it Annual Meeting

Washington, D.C. – 2nd ABA National Conference on Employment of Lawyers with Disabilities (Hurry for the EARLY BIRD special because after June 1st the registration increases)

United States Supreme Court – President Obama nominates Judge Sonia Sotomayor for the U.S. Supreme Court (For more news links, click here. For blog coverage, click here.)

Brooklyn, New York - A Call for Pro Bono at Boro Hall

Lexington, Kentucky – Interview with a True Change Agent

Nashville, Tennessee – New Legal Advice Clinic to Help with Debt Issues

Richmond, Virginia - LINC Recognizes Outstanding Volunteers

Public Justice Center – Donor Inspires Us with $10,000 Gift 

Ventura County, California – New County Program Helping Low-Income Families Adopt

 Winston-Salem, North Carolina – Practical Paralegalism: Paying it Forward

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma – Credit Card Reforms Could Help Statements

Fairfield, Connecticut – Hard Times Force People Into Family Court “Solo”

Honolulu, Hawaii – Starn O’Toole Marcus & Fisher Supports Access to Justice Commission

Australia – Pro Bono Work Good for Law Students

New York, New York – Pro Bono Recruitment Drive

San Diego, California – Law Made Public: Legal Research Class for the Self-Represented Litigant

-RFW

SC Ranks Between NY and CA

South Carolina Ranks 39th in Child Homelessness

According to the National Center on Family Homelessness State Report Card on Homelessness, South Carolina ranks 39th overall in Child Homelessness. The Center measured factors such as the extent of child homelessness (SC ranks 25), child well-being (SC ranks 35), risk for child homelessness (SC ranks 38) as well as state policy and planning.

In the national study, Connecticut ranked number 1 and Texas ranked last.

South Carolina ranked in the bottom half of the states overall, in between New York ranked at 38 and California ranked at 40.

In the 220 page report, the definition of homeless children is from birth to age 18 who are accompanied by one or more parents or caregivers. Runaways or throwaways are not included in the count.

~ Each year more than 1.5 million of our nation’s children become homeless ~

From the Report itself:

Extent of Child Homelessness: Counting homeless children is important because it helps us understand the scope of the problem, which drives planning and policy efforts. The percentage of homeless children identified in each state was used as one of the four domains in the Report Card. This was based on school data collected through a mandate of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.17

Child Well-Being: For the purposes of the Report Card, child well-being was determined by three factors: food security, health outcomes, and educational proficiency. Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Survey of Children’s Health, McKinney-Vento Academic Progress Reports, National School Lunch Program, and the National Assessment of Education Progress were used to create state scores on child well-being.

Risk for Child Homelessness: By creating an index of risk for each state based on generosity of benefits, household structure, housing market factors and extreme poverty, structural factors contributing to homelessness were included in the composite score. The index of  risk reflects the growing gap between rich and poor Americans and the decreasing number of households that can afford the increasing cost of housing. As their purchasing power has also decreased, millions of Americans must choose between housing and other basic necessities. With the current economic downturn and the staggering increase in housing foreclosures, more and more families are likely to become homeless.

Policy and Planning Efforts: This domain includes a state-by-state review of housing, income, education, and health policies and planning activities related to child homelessness. A total score was computed based on various efforts in these critical areas.

It’s an easy website to maneuver and well-worth your time to explore and use the interactive map and at least review the short reports on your own states. For the short South Carolina report, click here. For the long South Carolina report, click here. For the full report’s Executive Summary, click here. For the full report, click here.

-RFW

More SRLs: Are Lawyers too Costly or Simply Sign of Hard Times?

That’s the question coming out of Connecticut this week, see Connecticut Law Tribune article here. Whatever the answer, the numbers of Self-Represented Litigants or SRLs is on the rise. The trend isn’t limited to Connecticut either. Recent conversations with family court judges, clerks of court and masters-in-equity have indicated that South Carolina is also part of the trend.

The challenges faced by other court systems also mirror what is happening in South Carolina. SRLs are not familiar with procedures to meet minimal requirements such as notifying the other party or service of process. Even if they meet procedural requirements they may not understand some of the documents themselves. They may not even complete all the necessary forms.

Additionally, attorneys have a reputation for using their own language, also known as legalese. The phrases in legal documents often are in Latin, not English. The South Carolina Access to Justice Commission is working with the courts to ensure that court documents are written in Plain English whenever possible.

Clerks of Court in South Carolina have also noted the rise in SRLs. Members of the public often ask for forms, then ask for help completing them. Or they may ask for advice from the clerk of whether to bring the action. Clerks are wary of responding – not because they don’t want to help, but because they don’t want to overstep into the practice of law – the unauthorized practice of law. In South Carolina, there are established laws indicating that only attorneys licensed in South Carolina may practice law in South Carolina. Legal advice is considered the practice of law. The South Carolina Access to Justice Commission is also working to address this question by developing signage clearly indicating what clerks can and cannot do. And the Commission is working with a clerk of court work group to educate clerks and the general public about the fine line between advice and information.

Judges note that they too have ethical dilemmas. When SRLs appear in their courtrooms and miss relevant pieces of their cases, the judges want to help but they too have boundaries. They may not help one side to the detriment of another.

SRLs have arrived and South Carolina is working to address the issue of increased numbers of SRLs in the courts.

But it may take a little while.

Thanks for your patience.

-RFW