Compelled to Care

Forrest Prull and Mickey MouseIn his own words, corporate attorney Forrest Prull shares how he helped the Walt Disney Company bring happiness to LA’s foster youth and their families.

“While working as an attorney in the Los Angeles office of the Walt Disney Company, I was offered an amazing opportunity to join Disney’s then newly formed pro-bono legal team. The mission of the pro-bono team was to use its combined professional skills to help people who were adopting children through the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) who did not have the financial means to pay the legal fees or finalize their adoption cases.

As attorneys, we are skilled at understanding and managing the procedural aspects of the court system. I had no prior experience in foster care or foster youth adoption, but I felt compelled to offer my time and expertise. To ensure I would be proficient in defending children’s rights, I was required along with other Disney pro-bono team members to attend training sessions led by Public Counsel, the nation’s largest pro-bono law firm. Once the training was complete, I was assigned to work alongside a group of paralegals and administrative assistants whose job it was to draft and file legal documents and keep the process moving efficiently.

I was assigned to work two cases. In both cases, the family members fostered-to-adopt the children without hesitation, despite having other children to care for. The first case involved a single foster mother who adopted a boy and then decided five years later to adopt his baby sister. I spent a total of about sixty hours during my lunch breaks, after work and on weekends to complete the case. Everything-from drawing up the initial engagement letter to visiting with the family at their home to filing paperwork with DCFS and meeting family court deadlines-was handled by our team in about six months.

The second case required more of my time because it involved three biological siblings being adopted into a traditional two-parent family, who already had two children with special needs. In special needs adoption cases, each child is required to undergo a medical evaluation to determine if they qualify for more financial support. That means that in addition to the required pro-bono representation agreements, we also had to file medical documents with DCFS for the two children. In essence, my job was to advocate on their behalf to prove that they qualified for additional care.

Along with a colleague, I also visited the family at their home so they would know the people who were representing them. We corresponded with doctors, reviewed medical records, and drafted and filed the required legal documents with the family court. My last step in helping the families make their adoptions final was serving as Public Counsel in family court before the judge on final signing day.

Another example of my working in the foster care community was for Los Angeles’ National Adoption Day, a bi-annual event which takes place at the Edmund D. Edelman Children’s Court in Monterey Park, California. There are two nationally recognized adoption days in a calendar year, (one in the spring and one in the fall), and my Disney pro-bono legal team participated in November’s National Adoption Day in 2012. Sponsored by the Los Angeles Juvenile Court, DCFS, the Alliance for Children’s Rights and Public Counsel, we were part of a collaborative effort that helped finalize the adoptions of more than 200 foster children.

That day was an emotional time filled with balloons and lots of celebrations. To witness the joyful tears and smiles of the parents and children was gratifying for me, the paralegals and the administrative assistants who were part of the final court process. We received lots of hugs and even took pictures with the families to commemorate the special day. Once the court hearing was over and the assignment was complete, we presented the children with Disney gift bags.

I was quite fascinated to learn about the plight of so many children growing up in the Southern California foster care system, and I’m honored to have worked on behalf of these resilient, brave youngsters. Foster parents are to be commended, too. Their selflessness, compassion and commitment to helping fill a void for the thousands of children in foster care is what makes our society even greater. Today even though I’ve moved on from the Walt Disney Company, I’m still proud of the time I spent working with the pro-bono legal team to make the lives of these inspirational families a bit easier.

*Forrest Prull’s views and opinions set out above are his personal views and opinions and not the official views or opinions of the Walt Disney Company.