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NV Foster Children Deserve Representation in Court

The Children's Attorneys Project formed in 1999 to provide counsel, advice and representation to abused and neglected children, and now works to ensure all foster children are represented. (Patrick Feller/Flickr)
The Children's Attorneys Project formed in 1999 to provide counsel, advice and representation to abused and neglected children, and now works to ensure all foster children are represented. (Patrick Feller/Flickr)
July 2, 2018

LAS VEGAS — The Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada wants to find attorneys for every Clark County child in foster care. The group says in cases of abuse or neglect, it's essential that children's interests are represented in court.

When 18-year-old Alaina Shaw-Duryee graduated from high school this spring, she wanted one important person to join her family's celebration: the attorney who helped with her adoption. Wayne Hardy had represented her when she was in the foster care system, at age 7.

"At the time, considering I was so young, I honestly didn't really understand a lot of things that were going on. And Wayne basically explained to me, you know, 'You're in good hands,’” Shaw-Duryee said. “He always had the best thing in mind for me and always showed me that's what he was trying to get at."

More than 3,000 children are in foster care in Clark County.

A 2017 Nevada law now requires that children alleged to have been abused or neglected be appointed an attorney. The Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada's Children's Attorneys Project has about 85 percent of these children covered, but is seeking more attorneys who can volunteer to take on the remaining cases.

Hardy is now retired, but he represented foster children at no charge for about 10 years. He said many of the kids he worked with had been let down by other adults in their lives, and he saw his role as one of trust-building.

"The foster care system is burdened with heavy caseloads,” Hardy said. “And based on my experience in the system, it is extremely helpful for these children to have their own attorneys speaking for them and letting their voice be heard in court."

Hardy said it melted his heart when Shaw-Duryee reached out to invite him to her graduation. The young woman said she credits Hardy with laying the foundation for her to be adopted into her forever family.

"Without him, who knows where I'd be right now,” she said.

Now that she's done with high school, she said she's planning a career in social services, so she can help foster kids, too.

Information on foster care pro bono work is available at lacsnProBono.org.

Katherine Davis-Young, Public News Service - NV