Akerman LLP, a national law firm with offices in South Florida, will be making a six-year commitment to helping youth in foster care by pledging $1 million to the National Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Association.
Details will be announced Monday, but a significant portion of the pledged funds, which will benefit more than a half-million current and former foster youth nationwide, will go toward CASA, a network of state- and community-based programs that advocate for the best interests of abused and neglected children, and the local CASA/guardian ad litem programs.
According to CASA, the pledge is the largest it has ever received from a law firm and one of the greatest sustained commitments it has received in its 38-year history. Akerman is the first law firm to partner nationally with CASA and local guardian ad litem programs.
The relationship between guardian ad litem and Akerman grew in 2014, during Akerman’s inaugural Give Back Campaign, an effort to bring awareness of issues impacting foster youth throughout the United States. According to Andrew Smulian, chairman and CEO of Akerman, a series of articles published in the Miami Herald about children languishing in the foster care system struck a nerve within the firm.
“Those articles crystallized our decision to support a cause that not only addresses the system’s shortfalls, but champions the needs of these vulnerable youth,” said Smulian. “Akerman is connected to many different communities across the country and we identified a definite need and opportunity to make an impact by working with the National CASA Association and its local Guardian ad Litem programs. We have a responsibility as lawyers to advocate for those without a voice, and in collaboration with CASA/guardian ad litem, we can and will do better for these kids.”
The pledged funds also will be used to establish the “Akerman Academic Scholarship for Foster Youth,” an endowed fund aimed at helping to minimize the financial burden of higher education for college-bound youth who have spent time in the system. As students age out of foster care, few can afford the necessities to attend school, including books, supplies, registration fees and living expenses. The scholarship, which is scheduled to kick off in early 2016, addresses these needs.
“The need for strong child advocates is great, and everyone can contribute in some way,” added Smulian. “Akerman’s pledge is part of our continuing efforts to create a program that supports foster youth today and in the years ahead. The lives of children should be improved, not diminished, by the foster care experience, and the business community can and should play an important role in that effort. It is incumbent on every one of us to do all that we can to ensure a bright future.”
Earlier this year, Akerman was honored with the “I Am For the Child” award for its commitment to promote volunteer advocacy for at-risk youth in the courtroom and community. The award is the highest recognition given by the guardian ad litem program.