Tim Eirich and Catherine Lang
It’s sad, but true: Not all parents’ top priority is to keep their children safe. Luckily, some organizations’ sole purpose is to help protect kids in danger.
The Rocky Mountain Children’s Law Center is one such organization. Since 1981, the Denver-based non-profit has represented abused and neglected kids involved in Colorado Department of Human Services cases. The center’s attorneys, clinical consultants and educational advocates work together to minimize unnecessary moves from one home to another, keep siblings together and secure mental health care.
The center also handles crisis calls from community members. In November 2009, a grandmother called the organization. She had been raising three of her grandchildren, including a 6-year-old girl, for more than a year after they were removed from the care of their mother, who had substance-abuse problems. The grandmother recently had started seeking child support from the children’s fathers. She was concerned when the young girl’s estranged father decided to seek custody of the girl instead.
“This little girl had already been removed from her mom, had been living with her grandma and thriving with her, and now a dad who none of them had ever met was coming forward and saying, ‘I don’t want to pay child support, I want my kid,’” says Tim Eirich, deputy director at the center.
Just a week prior to the grandmother’s call, the center had given a presentation about pro bono opportunities to lawyers at CH2M HILL, a Denver-based international engineering, construction and operations company. Corporate Counsel Catherine Lang had expressed interest in getting involved with the organization, and she agreed to take on the case when the center reached out to her.
“It made complete sense that the grandmother was the solution,” Lang says. “She provided a safe environment; she was parenting the children—they had a family unit already there. To take [the little girl] completely out of that and to put her with her father would have been catastrophic for her from an emotional standpoint.”
Lang, who has a transactional background, says she was grateful to Eirich and others at the center who provided her with resources and guidance. A colleague also mentored Lang.
“It meant a lot to have the personal support from one of the more senior attorneys at CH2M HILL,” Lang says.
Lang worked on the case for about a year, completing filings and meeting with the father’s counsel to try to come to a resolution. But the case ended up going to court. Happily, the outcome was good. “I was beyond ecstatic when the grandmother was awarded custody of her granddaughter,” Lang says.
Lang says she looks forward to working with the center again on future cases. “It’s a fabulous organization that has a huge impact on children in our state,” she says. “It takes you to a completely different level when [you’re helping] children at such a young age dealing with something that’s so life-impacting to them. You really get emotionally invested in making sure that the outcome is in their best interest.”