Mona Kaveh gives a voice to foster children in Las Vegas
In 2018, Mona Kaveh received an email from the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada informing her she was on the short list for one of its pro bono awards and should prepare a speech.
She was surprised but thought it could be related to her work with the Children’s Attorneys Project, which provides legal counsel and representation to abused and neglected children who are placed in foster care in Clark County.
In thinking over what she might say, Kaveh decided a simple thank-you wouldn’t suffice.
“I remember talking to my family and saying, ‘I want to do something to inspire, because that’s the reason why I’m doing this,’” she explains. “I want people to understand what this program is and how they can help.”
Kaveh, a partner at Kemp Jones who practices complex commercial litigation, also talked with a founding partner of her firm, which agreed to support her if she posed a challenge to the Las Vegas legal community.
At the Legal Aid Center’s Pro Bono Awards Luncheon—where she won the Pro Bono Attorney of the Year Award—Kaveh got her chance. During her speech, she told the audience the Children’s Attorneys Project had 45 foster children on its pro bono wait list. For each case taken by an attorney, her firm would donate $1,000.
Within two weeks, all 45 children had attorneys.
“I was so touched,” says Kaveh, who has represented nearly 30 foster children since she began volunteering with the Children’s Attorneys Project in 2010. “It made me so happy that these kids had someone fighting for them. I always say, as much as I try to advocate for these kids, I feel like they have changed my life so much and inspired me so much in return. What they have been through and what they are still able to achieve is so inspiring.”
Becoming an advocate
Kaveh was in her second year at the UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law when she met with a career adviser to talk about externship opportunities.
The Las Vegas native already had helped educate underrepresented high school students about legal rights through Street Law Inc. and child victims and witnesses about judicial processes through Kids’ Court School.
She was thrilled when the adviser told her about the Children’s Attorneys Project.
In summer 2008, she became its legal extern, assisting the attorneys who represented abused and neglected children and meeting with their young clients across the city.
“I went to mental institutions, I went to drug rehab centers, I went to foster homes, I went to group homes, I went to detention centers,” Kaveh says. “Wherever you can imagine these poor kids are, we went to talk to them to make sure they were OK and to explain what was going on.
“They tell you what they want, and you’re their voice.”
It was life-changing for Kaveh, who promised herself she would work with the Children’s Attorneys Project after she graduated from law school in 2009. She kept that promise and began taking pro bono cases the following year.
Kaveh has helped newborns, children and youth up to age 21 through adoption, reunification and guardianship.
If newborns have been exposed to drugs, she starts by visiting them in the hospital to ensure they receive adequate care.
Since they can’t tell her what they need, she tries to see everything from their perspective. She advocates for them during court hearings and meetings to find them good homes and get their lives on track.
“There’s a famous quote: ‘It’s easier to build strong children than to repair broken men,’” Kaveh says. “That’s always in my mind. What can we do when we get them young to build them up?”
One of the newborns Kaveh represented is now 2 and recently was adopted by her foster family. Because of COVID-19, it was the first adoption proceeding she participated in via videoconference, but she still cried as she watched.
When representing older children, Kaveh understands that it’s hard for them to trust adults since many have been in and out of their lives. She tries to be consistent and show she’s working for them.
One of Kaveh’s most memorable cases involved a 17-year-old girl who at first wouldn’t even look at her. She kept encouraging the teenager, and during a difficult meeting about her goals after foster care, the girl finally said she trusted her.
Kaveh represented her until she was 21 and stayed in touch afterward.
“She wrote me the sweetest message about how she didn’t know where she would be in life, but that I always believed in her,” Kaveh says. “That to me shows that you really can make a difference in these lives as a CAP attorney. That’s why I’m so passionate about this work.”
Judge Cynthia Giuliani of the Eighth Judicial District Court’s Family Division has heard several of Kaveh’s cases and agrees her passion for helping foster children is obvious.
“It’s so special because she does work in a litigation firm, but she’s soft and she’s calm with the kids,” Giuliani says. “She knows her case back and forth, and her kids that she represents, she knows them so well. We don’t always see that.
“You have to have someone the kids can call anytime there is a crisis or they need to talk,” the judge adds. “She’s that type. She’s always there.”
Kaveh credits her parents, who came to the United States from Iran, for encouraging her to be kind and help those around her.
“I think watching my parents working hard and achieving their dreams really inspired me and lit that fire in me,” she says. “I had these opportunities, and I also wanted to work hard and make a difference.”
Kaveh’s drive to give back isn’t limited to the Children’s Attorneys Project.
Before the pandemic, she and her mom volunteered at least once a month at Child Haven, a temporary shelter where they helped feed and nurture children ages 6 and younger who had been removed from their homes.
She also volunteered monthly at the Shannon West Homeless Youth Center. She hosted an independent living course on various skills, including how to find an apartment and pay rent, but Kaveh realized many youth just wanted to talk to someone.
“It’s been very eye-opening getting to talk to kids who have been through a lot and who share their life stories,” she says. “I can learn from the older ones about what happened and what would’ve helped them to then try to help the younger kids head down the right path.”
Kaveh, who joined the ABA when she began practicing, was recognized for her commitment to her community with the Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service’s Pro Bono Publico Award in 2019.
Despite her busy practice, she says she will continue to make time for children because she knows the difference it makes in their lives.
“Helping a child in need, helping somebody who doesn’t always have their voice heard or just needs someone to fight for them, I think is so important,” Kaveh says. “I’m always going to do it.”
Members Who Inspire is an ABA Journal series profiling exceptional ABA members. If you know members who do unique and important work, you can nominate them for this series by emailing [email protected].