Legal Aid Society

A Day In The Life

Serving Children Holistically in the Juvenile Rights Practice

There’s no formula for handling the complex legal matters that involve New York City’s children. Still, there’s a tightly knit group of compassionate experts – social workers, paralegals, attorneys – in our Juvenile Rights Practice (JRP) sharing knowledge, supporting and looking out for one another through some of our most challenging cases.

“There’s a lot of respect for each other and honoring each other’s opinions,” says Maria Kaidas, a social worker in the Bronx. “I think because we’re working with children and young people, this work attracts a specific kind of person.”

We have a holistic style of representation where everyone brings in an elemental piece beyond what happens in family court.

It often takes combined forces to achieve success for one client. Maria and her colleague, Sirica McIntosh, an attorney in Bronx JRP, both played crucial roles in making sure a young student with a prosthetic leg was able to navigate her school’s stairs safely after her hospitalization. Sirica performed the legal assessment upon intake and pressed the school to act. “Social workers can change the trajectory of a case. Lawyers have the legal tools, but the social workers understand the big picture and the service plan and why this case is involving us in the first place,” says Sirica.

Maria then developed the relationship with the student and her mother, making sure they were comfortable with the accommodation and school personnel implementing it. Interpersonal connection is essential to not only ensuring the student’s safety but putting the parent at ease knowing her child was receiving the care she deserved.

Sirica offers her young clients the opportunity to participate in their proceedings. She invites them to sit beside her so she can give them the layout of the court, and the chance to speak to the judge if they have a question or an opinion. She adds the layer of compassion that might not otherwise be found in these proceedings. It’s important to her to humanize clients when they could otherwise be treated as just another case number.

In Sirica’s experience, there are instances where the court should have been avoided altogether. Recalling one client, she mentions “sounding the alarm four months ago.” She reached out to the parent advocate and to the NYC Administration for Children’s Services, explaining that they just needed stability and a home. Her pleas were ignored, and she ultimately found herself in court, listening to the conditions of their release. “It didn’t have to get to this point. We could have held an informal conference. We shouldn’t wait until a court date to have these conversations,” she explains. “Even the highest caseloads don’t change the fact that these are human beings that often just want someone to listen to them.”

The care Legal Aid attorneys give to their clients does not go unnoticed. “I’ve heard judges say they’re happy when we’re on the cases,” says Sirica, “so we’re bringing something that’s special.”

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