Recognizing the Guardians

Recognizing the Guardians

Celebrating city attorneys who battle child abuse in Alexandria.

Fighting the good fight is often a thankless job. For lawyers in the city attorney’s office who work against child abuse, it’s a demanding calling that requires guts and persistence — a kind of determination that is a rare find.

That’s why Stop Child Abuse Now of Northern Virginia, based in Alexandria, holds its Allies in Prevention Awards Luncheon every year. Now in its fourth year, the awards spotlight the work of advocates in the trenches. Two employees of the Alexandria city attorney’s office were recognized at last week's ceremonies in Tysons Corner, : Jill Applebaum and Mary O’Donnell.

“Child abuse is one of those issues that we are all concerned about but we don’t like to think about,” said Sonia Quinonez director of development for Stop Child Abuse Now of Northern Virginia. “We came up with the idea of presenting these awards as a way to recognize unsung heroes who work behind the scenes who have profound impact on vulnerable children and their families,”

JILL APPLEBAUM is a native of Long Island, N.Y. She received a bachelor’s degree from Williams College and a juris doctorate from American University. After law school, she clerked in the D.C. Superior Court of Judge Curtis von Kann before joining the New York Law Department. She came to Alexandria in 1997, joining the city government to work in the city attorney’s office.

“Unfortunately, we have a steady supply of cases,” Applebaum said. “It’s very fulfilling, and we have a great team in Alexandria.”

She is an active member of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges Model Court Program and has been a member of the city’s Model Court group since 1997. She chaired the model court committee to develop its mission statement, and she helped create the first Adoption Day in Virginia. She assisted in preparing the guardian ad litem training program as well as draft legislative amendments to strengthen abuse and neglect laws.

“I am dedicated to this,” she said. “And I don’t intend to leave this position anytime soon.”

MARY O’DONNELL is a native of Arlington, Texas. She received a bachelor’s degree from Rice University and a juris doctorate from Catholic University. After law school, she worked for a Fairfax County firm before opening her own family-law practice.

“As soon as I graduated from law school, I started taking cases as a guardian ad litem for children,” O’Donnell said. “I felt that having a role in child-advocacy cases was a way to have a positive effect in children’s lives over the long term.”

In 2002, joined the city attorney’s office, where she is a an active member of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges Model Court Program and the Alexandria Model Court. Her work with the city’s Family Drug Treatment Court has helped hundreds of families cope with problems associated with drug use, and she is currently developing a child-advocacy center in Alexandria.

“We’re still discussing the framework, but the main purpose would be to reduce the negative impact of investigating child-abuse cases on the child victims,” O’Donnell said. “Children are often asked to repeat their stories on numerous occasions, and the center would create an environment where the children would feel more comfortable.”