Legal Aid of West Virginia Law Fellow Shares His Experience in Legal Aid
The Rural Summer Legal Corps (RSLC) is a privately funded initiative that connects law students with legal aid programs in the common pursuit of better addressing the civil legal needs of rural communities. In partnership with Equal Justice Works, LSC selects about thirty of the nation’s most talented and dedicated law students to spend their summers working at LSC-grantee offices across the United States and its territories. Here's 2018 RSLC fellow John Keller's account of his summer working with Legal Aid of West Virginia.
RSLC Service Spotlight
John Keller, Jr.
Legal Aid of West Virginia
It has been a hectic but fulfilling year here in Martinsburg at the Legal Aid of West Virginia. The very first day on the job, I was tasked with drafting a Petition for Adoption of an infant child. The child’s biological father had been deported for drug crimes, while the biological mother was absent from the child’s life. The child’s grandparents had assumed the role of parents since the child’s birth. This is a common scenario here in this part of the country. That is, grandparents stepping back into parenting roles at a later stage in life, often during a stage of life it would normally be expected for their children to be taking care of them.
Sadly, the opioid epidemic has ravaged the traditional family unit. It is not uncommon to go shopping at a store like Wal-Mart and see toddler’s clinging onto senior citizens. (Normally, a bystander would think it was a fun or planned grandparent/grandchild outing…but often in these situations more than not the “grandparent” is the child’s primary caretaker and is shopping for everyday essentials with the child). Such relationships are known as kinship caregiving – which is also a subfield of family law I had no idea existed prior to this summer. I witnessed similar kinship caregiver interactions at the War Memorial Park, a place where for five dollars you could provide a child with a day’s worth of entertainment, at the pool and splash park. I would spend many weekends there swimming and having exchanges with the townsfolk.
Martinsburg is nicknamed “Little Baltimore.” It was given this name for two reasons: 1) An influx of Marylanders have taken over this area of West Virginia (including myself for the summer), and 2) the influx of drugs, heroine namely, coming from Baltimore, a major east coast source. The drug influx from Baltimore has turned this turned this one quiet town into one of the centers of the opioid epidemic.
Yet, I am optimistic that the town will eventually overcome its nickname – and a big part of that solution is Legal Aid Services. Legal Aid of West Virginia is helping the community instrumentally by placing displaced children with caregivers, whether through kinship, guardianship, adoption or fostering, essentially moulding and supporting the future of this town – its children.