Advertisement - Click to support our sponsors.

Friday, March 31, 2000

City & County of Honolulu

Children’s legal
group loses funds

By Gordon Y.K. Pang


Federal block grant funding for a children's advocacy group has been chopped from Mayor Jeremy Harris' proposed city budget, prompting outcry from the social service community.

Na Keiki Law Center was started last July by Volunteer Legal Services Hawaii (then known as Hawaii Lawyers Care) to help youths get legal representation on issues ranging from guardianship to abuse and neglect.

Judy Sobin, executive director for both organizations, said the city provided $50,000 of Na Keiki's $200,000 budget for the current fiscal year and was seeking $100,000 for its $300,000 budget for next year.

City spokeswoman Carol Costa said budget officials had no immediate explanation for the elimination in funding other than that "we are dealing with very limited funds."

Councilman John DeSoto, an early supporter of the program, said he has asked aides to find replacement funding.

Na Keiki, located in the Child and Family Services Family Center in Ewa, steps in where state agencies cannot, Sobin said.

"While we will work with the entire family, we are representing the interest of the child," Sobin said.

"It's a very unique position because although we have many organizations that work closely with children, we really look at issues from their perspective and advocate from their legal interest."

Na Keiki has been able to cut through red tape and resolve issues out of court, Sobin said.

"We thought we would be in court a heck of a lot more but we're really able to resolve issues on the child's behalf and save a lot of time because a child can't afford to wait a year or two for a resolution," she said.

Falling through the cracks

In one case, two siblings needed legal help trying to escape a household where the mother was being beaten by her new spouse, because the state didn't consider the children themselves victims of abuse or neglect, Sobin said. Na Keiki also helped the biological father establish paternity in the case to win the children back.

In another case, a parentless child now living with an unrelated guardian needed legal representation to get his Social Security benefits back from his grandparents.

"The kids who benefit from Na Keiki are your borderline status kids, who have problems with their families and are out on their own," said Lorenn Walker, a health educator and children's advocate.

She notes the number of homeless youths in Waikiki is increasing. "They're not bad kids, they come from families who have serious problems, kids leaving home in order to survive," she said.

Walker was one of a number of children's advocates submitting testimony asking the City Council restore Na Keiki's funding. Others included officials with the state Family Court, the state Children's Advocacy Centers of Hawaii and the nonprofit Hawaii State Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Sobin said Na Keiki was aiming to help 50 youths in its first year. With more than two months left in the fiscal year, it has interviewed more than 250 children and their families and aided more than 100.

Attorneys work pro bono and funding for the program goes to administrative staffing and training of its volunteer attorneys.

E-mail to City Desk

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]

© 2000 Honolulu Star-Bulletin