Due to COVID-19 court restrictions, there have been no adoption proceedings over the past 14 months in New York City, culminating in a backlog of children in need.  Although these proceedings are not considered to be “emergencies,” the failure to facilitate permanency on such a wide scale, in fact, poses a threat to the health and safety of children.  As courts are beginning to hear these matters again, and given the tremendous unmet need for legal services, Proskauer is partnering with Mobilization for Justice’s Kinship Caregiver Law Project to provide the pro bono legal support needed to help stabilize families.

Kinship care refers to the care of children by relatives or, in some jurisdictions, close family friends. In the State of New York, there are an estimated 179,000 kinship caregivers, with the majority being grandparents, aunts, and uncles. Currently, over 200,000 children in New York City are being raised by these caregivers due to circumstances that render their biological parents unable or unwilling to care for them, including neglect, abuse, and absence.

Research shows that living with relatives or other guardians who were consistently in the child’s life has long-term benefits and can be determinant of the child’s overall well-being. Relatives are the preferred resource for children who must be removed from their birthparents because it minimizes the trauma of removal and maintains the children’s connection to their families. Family connections are critical to a child’s healthy development and sense of belonging.

Facilitating kinship adoptions allows for maintaining these critical family connections, and increases the likelihood that children will be placed in a home with their siblings, live in the same neighborhood, and attend the same school.  Minimizing lifestyle disruption is vital to promoting a strong foundation of stability for these children who may be dealing with the aftermath of their biological parents’ circumstances, or any child simply dealing with the trials of growing up. This has profound positive effects on all aspects of a child’s life, even beyond adolescence.

Studies have found that being placed into kinship care led to better behavioral and mental health outcomes for children when compared to those in foster care. Committed, close relationships with a supportive adult were found to have positive effects on the child’s stability well into adulthood, helping them attain self-sufficiency through education and employment, cultivate better mental and physical health, lower the likelihood of homelessness, and limit interactions with the criminal-legal system. However, these reports stress the urgent need to provide more financial, social, and – crucially – legal resources for kinship caregivers in lower income brackets. Having effective representation to facilitate a legally recognized relationship between child and caregiver can allow for coverage by the adult’s insurance and public benefits, permission to make important medical decisions, and the ability to enroll the child in school. Without this formalized legal relationship, there is no basis for government agencies to provide much-needed support, and no way for guardians to access additional caregiver benefits.

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Photo of William C. Silverman William C. Silverman

William C. Silverman is a partner responsible for leading Proskauer’s global pro bono efforts, which provide assistance to individual clients and nonprofit organizations in litigation as well as transactional matters. He focuses on identifying and securing pro bono opportunities and partnerships for Proskauer…

William C. Silverman is a partner responsible for leading Proskauer’s global pro bono efforts, which provide assistance to individual clients and nonprofit organizations in litigation as well as transactional matters. He focuses on identifying and securing pro bono opportunities and partnerships for Proskauer lawyers and ensuring widespread participation in these projects.

Bill has robust private and public sector experience and a strong criminal and civil background. He has worked extensively on government investigations and white collar criminal matters, as well as complex civil litigation in federal and state courts. He also served as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York, where he led criminal investigations, conducted trials and handled Second Circuit appeals.

Throughout his career, Bill has dedicated himself to the promotion of equal access to justice through pro bono service, particularly in the area of family court, anti-trafficking, and immigration.

Bill spearheaded a partnership among several law firms, corporations and the New York City Family Court to provide free legal advice to pro se litigants. The New York City Family Court Volunteer Attorney Program now has more than 400 volunteer attorneys from 40 major firms and corporations. Bill also helped build a coalition of organizations in a successful effort to secure additional Family Court judges in New York. He is now part of an effort spearheaded by Chief Judge Janet DiFiore to simplify the New York Court System from 11 trial courts to three.

Bill serves as counsel to the New York State Anti-Trafficking Coalition. In that capacity he has been a strong advocate for changes in the law and public policy to protect victims of human trafficking and bring perpetrators to justice. He also represents individual clients in this area, including a successful federal lawsuit brought on behalf of a trafficking victim against her traffickers. For his work, he was named by domestic violence nonprofit Sanctuary For Families as one of “New York’s New Abolitionists.”

Bill has spoken at numerous conferences and events, including New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman’s Hearings on Civil Legal Services and the American Bar Association’s Equal Justice Conference. In 2014, he attended a meeting at the White House with Vice President Joe Biden and other policymakers on the need for access to legal services in immigration proceedings.

Bill has been recognized for his public service with the Abely Pro Bono Leadership Award from Sanctuary For Families and Columbia Law School (2019); the Special Leadership Award for All-Around Excellence in Corporate Social Responsibility & the Law from City & State Reports (2015); the Commitment to Justice Award for Outstanding Partner from inMotion (2008); and the Matthew G. Leonard Award for Outstanding Pro Bono Achievement from MFY Legal Services (2007).

Outside of his work at the firm, Bill serves on various committees and non-profit boards. Bill is currently chairman of the Fund for Modern Courts, a non-partisan citizen organization devoted to improving New York State courts, and is formerly chairman of Legal Information For Families Today (LIFT), an organization devoted to unrepresented litigants in Family Court.