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Child Property
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Don Keenan

      . . . trial lawyer and child advocate. Mr. Keenan, one of 100 attournies in the "Circle of Advocates" and its youngest president to date. He has for over 20 years been a plaintive's lawyer dedicated to the well-being of children. With pro bono cases for neglected and abused children featured in the national media, Mr. Keenan has been described by the "Lawyers' Weekly" newspaper as "the leading child advocate in the United States" and the "Voice of the Voiceless" by others.

Excerpts3:36 secs

      Children are treated as personal property -- chattel -- in most Constitutional cases, according to Don Keenan. He has spent a lifetime calling on democracy's last line of defense -- 12 ordinary women and men, sitting on a jury -- to protect those children when legislators, regulators, state agencies, public opinion and the media have turned a blind eye.

      Don Keenan has a national practice as a trial lawyer and child advocate. He is one of the 100 attorneys in the "Circle of Advocates" and was its youngest president. Mr. Keenan is described by the "Lawyers' Weekly" newspaper as "the leading child advocate in the United States" and the "Voice of the Voiceless" by others.

      The American legal and regulator systems, Mr. Keenan insists, leave our kids virtually defenseless. The only rights they have under the Constitution are those which Supreme Court justices acknowledged when Mr. Keenan took a foster care case to them in the 1980s. ╩He successfully argued that at least children in the State's care should have the rights we extend to felons in prison. Twenty years later, horrific abuses of children in foster care continue, he maintains, pointing to his current (pro bono) "Terrell" case against the State of Georgia.

      It's not just kids in foster care, vulnerable as they are, he assures us. There are no national safety standards for toys, even though Mr. Keenan can quote the Consumer Products Safety Commission declaring 96% of the 40,000 daily serious injuries to kids -- 14,000,000 a year -- "preventable." Gun locks are optional in a country where every two hours, a gun kills a child. Migrant children are virtually exempt from fair labor and safety laws. And the list goes on. Why? Mr. Keenan cites two reasons. Children are powerless and special interest lobbies powerful. And American adults put their own interests ahead of children's.

There's nothing wrong with the Constitution, according to Mr. Keenan. It just needs to apply to children, too. Until then, adults must demand kid-friendly legislation and regulation. Yes, Mr. Keenan acknowledges, change comes incrementally, with time and a lot of work. So Mr. Keenan fights on in the defense of children, particularly children in foster care, under the too-often-blind eye of States who allow abuses to continue. His grisly documentation seems to have no end. But a beginning? Consider that, on average, 70% of the people in prison came out of long-term foster care. Wouldn't it be better to care for our young and weak, than fear who they will grow up to be?

[ This Program was recorded September 22, 2000 in Atlanta, Georgia, US.]

Conversation 1

Don Keenan explains to Paula Gordon and Bill Russell the positive significance the Keenan Law Firm attaches to Normal Rockwell's famous image of Federal Marshals escorting an African-American child to school. Mr. Keenan summarizes how profoundly he believes the American legal system fails to protect children.

Conversation 2

Our society can be judged by how we treat our children, Mr. Keenan reminds us, concerned that we come up short. He explains how his approach to better protecting children's rights has matured in 20 plus years. The art of compromise is considered, with examples of the fundamental, life-altering choices children cannot make. Mr. Keenan describes our often-neglected duties toward children. He recalls the 1982 case he took to the Supreme Court, challenging children's status as chattel, and relates that to the current "Terrell" case which can affect all American children in State custody.

Conversation 3

Mr. Keenan wonders why we have no national safety standards for toys and why migrant children are exempt from child labor and safety laws. Constitutional protection does not apply to children, he tells us. He compares powerful special interests (e.g., agribusiness) to voiceless children (e.g., migrant children.) Mr. Keenan calls on American adults to put the fundamental interests of children first, with examples of other nations who do. Gun locks are his example of how laws could help, if the gun lobby were not stronger than the kid lobby. He points to the media's failures and successes communicating the gravity of dangers to children.

Conversation 4

The Constitution is just fine, Mr. Keenan believes, it just needs to apply to kids. He expands. Mr. Keenan explains why he believes children need the most protection. He notes the consequences when we love our children, but love ourselves better. Problems for children are systemic problems, Mr. Keenan is convinced, and offers a series of examples. He remembers how he changed his explanation for why we should care about the tragedies facing kids in foster care. He cites the Hershey School for Kids as one totally non-governmental approach to helping youngsters.

Conversation 5

Mr. Keenan offers a multi-disciplined approach (with government in the middle of a variety of other social institutions) to fixing the problems of children in foster care. ╩Injuries rarely discriminate, Mr. Keenan declares, with examples of how special interests hurt kids, from their health care to their playground equipment. He addresses the reality of America's homeless children and those in foster care, then details common products which kill or seriously injury thousands of children daily. He offers simple beginnings for addressing complex issues, with vivid examples.

Conversation 6

Mr. Keenan applauds American juries as the place where right and wrong are decided, pointing to juries' many strengths within the democratic process.


We were delighted to meet a number of the people who work with Mr. Keenan in the pursuit of the welfare of children when we recorded this program at The Commerce Club in Atlanta. It's always a pleasure to know people dedicated to challenging causes.

It is a continuing pleasure to produce programs at The Commerce Club. We thank the entire Club for more than three years of encouragement in the pursuit of leadership.

Related Links:
There's more about the work of the Keenan's Kids' Foundation and other areas of Mr. Keenan's practice at the law firm's website

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