The C4K Cheat Code Revealed: Collaborative Champions and Centering Lived Expertise

The momentum around Counsel for Kids (C4K) continued to grow during the 2022 legislative session, thanks to strong legislative champions and lived experience experts.   Dedicated policy advocates buoyed C4K Campaign efforts in Colorado and Indiana this year.  In each state, diverse coalitions of youth with lived experience in the child protection system, attorneys, foster parents, and national leaders lobbied in support of client-directed representation for youth. Their advocacy highlighted the attorney’s role in holding a state accountable for its duties to children in foster care, expediting permanency, increasing well-being, and in centering and amplifying youth voice. 

This session, three state legislative champions emerged as leaders in the fight to achieve counsel for kids.  Even while committed to other pending bills, they worked tirelessely to educate their peers on the unique needs of children experiencing foster care and the positive impact of attorneys on their experience. 

In Indiana, Senator Jon Ford (R) leveraged his cooperative spirit, knowledge of foster care, and respected position to elevate the issue and encourage discussion of counsel for kids. Sen. Ford told NACC that in his state, “ […]everyone in the child welfare system is represented but the child. The very person who needs the help most doesn’t have someone working for their best interest.” He added, “I believe legal representation can get a child through the system to permanency faster and I hope with less trauma.”

Ford filed Senate Bill 180, a proposal to appoint legal counsel for children in child protection proceedings. When the bill stalled in the Appropriations committee after passing unanimously through the Family and Children Services committee, Sen. Ford skillfully pivoted. He amended the bill to request examination of children’s legal representation by an interim study committee.  Later, when the legislative council declined to assign the topic to an interim study committee, Sen. Ford announced his decision to conduct an independent study on the issue with a diverse group of stakeholders including lived experience experts, agency representatives, the judiciary, Court Appointed Special Advocates, public defenders, and other legislators.  Sen. Ford’s actions—drafting a bill, educating his peers, debating the importance of C4K—have laid the groundwork for eventual lasting change in Indiana.

In Colorado, Representatives Lindsey Daugherty (D) and Tonya Van Beber (R) successfully led the charge to pass House Bill 22-1038, legislation that guarantees client-directed legal counsel for children age 12 and older in child protection court proceedings.  As a lawyer-legislator with extensive experience as a Guardian ad litem attorney, Rep. Daugherty understood the importance of legal representation for children and the value of centering young people who have experienced foster care in any systemic reform efforts. Rep. Van Beber, the bill’s co-sponsor, has lived expertise as a young person in the child protection system, as an adoptee, and as a foster parent.  She purposefully committed to engaging a diverse array of stakeholders in a collaborative legislative process.  Rep. Van Beber told NACC, it was critical to her that “everyone who is impacted has a voice in the process” including “the youth who are at the mercy of a system that they find themselves in under difficult circumstances and through no fault of their own.”

With this dynamic duo in place, HB 22-1038 sailed smoothly and unanimously through committees to the Governor’s desk for signing.   But they were not alone:  Rep. Daugherty explained that the testimony of youth with experience in the foster care system resonated the most with her peers—helping them understand the need for client-directed legal counsel.  Support for the bill was solidified after legislators -heard directly from young people about the need for an attorney to ascertain and advance “what they actually [want].” Rep. Daugherty told NACC that,  “Empowering our youth is essential for them to create a positive future. We need to ensure that our youth have the tools and resources necessary to make something of themselves, and that all starts with amplifying our children’s voices so that they know they are actually heard.”  

Stakeholders in both Indiana and Colorado agree that effective collaboration with a bill’s legislative sponsor is key to policy reform.  Sponsors who understand the value of counsel for kids and are best positioned to persuade their legislative peers. Trust and effective communication cement the partnership between policy advocates, staffers, and the legislative sponsor.  Communicating about the schedule of committee hearings, arguments raised by opponents, and areas where constituent voice is needed are particularly vital to the advocacy campaign. 

2022’s C4K movement in Indiana and Colorado demonstrated that policy advocacy thrives with the support of committed legislators.  Thank you to Sen. Ford,  Rep. Daugherty, and Rep. Van Beber for centering the voices of individuals that have experienced foster care and championing children’s rights in the community, in committee hearings, and on the voting floor. Onwards!

Pictured Below left to right: Tonya Van Beber; Lindsey Daugherty,  Jon Ford