By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – For grandparents, family members and friends who raise others’ children, obtaining legal guardianship can be a challenge.
A free clinic in Tupelo next month can help.
“This is a need in our community to help the children and the families who take care of these children,” said Staci Bevill, a member of the Lee County Young Lawyers Association, which is having the clinic.
“We as attorneys are aware there are economic constraints people deal with every day that make it difficult for them to get guardianship. We want to alleviate the burden from people who are stepping up and taking care of these children.”
Bevill and fellow member Rachel Pierce are organizing the clinic, which will be from 9 a.m. to noon July 20 in Lee County Chancery Court. Participants must make an appointment by July 13 by calling the Mississippi Volunteer Lawyers Project at (601) 960-9577. Walkups will not be accepted.
Attorneys from Lee County Young Lawyers will present the guardianship petitions to Chancery Court Judge Jacqueline Mask during the clinic.
Proof of guardianship is needed to enroll children in school, and may also be required for certain medical treatment or insurance coverage. However, hiring a lawyer to go to court and obtain it can cost between $500 and $600, Bevill said.
“The people who are housing these children often don’t have the money to pay the filing fee and retain an attorney to complete the process,” Mask said. “These people need all the help they can get. It is a much-needed thing.
“I am appreciative the Lee County Young Lawyers are stepping to the plate and providing a service.”
Pam Traylor, director of student support services for the Tupelo Public School District, said the district usually works with about two dozen people each year who have guardianship issues.
“This is a needed service for the community due to families having financial hardships,” she said. “It is also a great opportunity for families seeking guardianship, especially for children who are entering school for the first time.”
Traylor said those in Tupelo who are unable to attend the clinic can still contact the school district to work with them.
Since this is the first such clinic, Bevill said it will be limited to Lee County residents. If they see a large demand, they will expand the area in the future.
“We will start in Lee County, and if need arises, hopefully we can help those children, too,” she said. “We are tying to get our feet wet in Lee County.”