Deborah Gould, 63, has been fighting for children most of her career.
After graduating from St. John’s University School of Law, the Long Island native began her legal career at the Legal Aid Society’s Juvenile Rights Practice, representing children in Family Court cases. She later served as the organization’s Human Resources Director for 20 years because she was “fed up with the courts” but eventually found herself drawn back to her first love – being an advocate for children. She joined the Children’s Law Center 15 years ago, where she currently works as co-director of the Bronx office.
WHEN YOU WERE IN LAW SCHOOL DID YOU KNOW THAT YOU WANTED TO REPRESENT CHILDREN?
I don’t think I did know…I think I happened onto it, kind of by mistake… And I’ll be blunt. I would never want to represent an adult. With a child, you kind of have a chance of shaping, molding. And although a child can be accused of horrible things, I don’t think I could represent an adult, first of all, who’s been accused of murder or something…when I was at Legal Aid, okay, the worst that could happen is my client would go upstate for a year, right? But for me to be responsible for whether somebody serves 25 years to life, I couldn’t handle that.
WHAT’S IT LIKE REPRESENTING CHILDREN?
I love it. I mean, the thing that always amazes me is the number of children who come through here, meeting us for the first time, and 99 percent of the time they just come through the door and go with it. I mean, there’s no fear…They’re very honest. As I said, they often have a wisdom that surpasses their parents. They are resilient. What would knock us off our feet, this is their normal… It’s also nice to be an ear for these kids, because they’re mired in so much… So I like having that private moment where they can maybe relax a little bit, relate to us… But they’re just so open. And that’s what I love.
AT ONE POINT, YOU SAID YOU WERE FED UP WITH THE COURTS. WHAT SPARKED THAT?
I think it was the daily grind and the frustration that you meet when you’re representing children. The fact that you’re so limited in any tangible results, that can get frustrating. Now, I deal with that much better now, because I’m older and more experienced. But when you’re just coming out of law school, I think you have certain ideals, and the reality of Family Court can really get to you. And I think that was way back then that I just…was too frustrated, or we would do our best for a child, but they still had to walk back home into an abusive home. One of the things I found most difficult was the kids who had a spark in their eye and maybe a talent in art, and you knew if they were in a different environment, different parents, they’d be taking art classes, they would be growing in that.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IS THE MOST REWARDING PART OF THE JOB?
The collegiality in the office. I found that when I was in Legal Aid years ago, like, you can’t get through a job here without incredible colleagues… that really helps because you go through something and you come back and… You share stories, you support each other, build some jokes and all that. So that’s what I love most about this office. And, of course, I love talking to kids.
IS THERE ANY SPECIAL TRAINING YOU HAVE TO GO THROUGH?
You have to be really careful what words you choose with a child or they’ll misinterpret it…So, you never say, when you discuss the confidentiality, we never say, “Okay, so this is a secret.” Because keeping secrets from your parents is not okay…Everybody gets training on how to interview a child, and there’s a whole outline…You get trained about body mannerisms. For example, if I were interviewing a child, the table would never be between me and the child. You always want to be right next to each other… Watching for body language on kids is really, really important…You have to be a good reader of their body language, their expressions, because what they’re saying may not be really what they’re feeling.