Child Advocacy Clinic
The Child Advocacy Clinic offers students an opportunity to represent adolescents. Students in this clinic can make a critical difference in enhancing the ability of their clients to transition into being happy and productive adults in an area of the law where attorneys carry large caseloads and may be limited in their ability to delve deeply into complicated life situations.
Adolescent Representation Project
The Child Advocacy Clinic launched a project in 2006 to represent youth, ranging in age from 16 to 23, aging out of foster care or other institutional settings. Their issues extend across a broad spectrum of needs, including: housing and homelessness prevention; teen parenting; health and health benefits; income and support benefits; education, tuition, and financial aid benefits; financial planning; civil rights including LGBTQ issues; job training and career planning; and domestic violence.
As increased attention is being paid to these older youth by both local and national policymakers, students have the opportunity to assist individual clients and affect evolving policies and practices. Paired in teams, students represent clients referred from legal advocacy offices, foster care agencies, and community-based organizations that are helping youth in the transition process.
The project includes four components:
- Seminar in Representing Adolescents: This weekly seminar focuses on the unique attributes of adolescents as viewed from multiple disciplines including medicine, law, sociology, and psychology. In addition to law students enrolled in the clinic, graduate students from other disciplines will enroll in the seminar portion of the clinic to explore adolescence from multiple perspectives.
- Class and Simulation Exercises Preparing for Casework: Students participate in intensive simulation practice, and are introduced to basic lawyering skills like interviewing and counseling, case development and strategy, complex problem solving, and preparation for negotiation or litigation. Because of the unique requirements of representing youth, students engage in additional interdisciplinary learning beyond the seminar component. They use the approaches and knowledge of many disciplines to represent the client effectively. There will be two additional “boot camp” classes during September to jump-start students’ abilities to begin representing clients.
- Client Representation: Students will begin to represent clients in mid-October following the intensive introduction to representation. Students will be teamed in pairs for casework. Each team will meet weekly with Jane M. Spinak, the Edward Ross Aranow Clinical Professor of Law, for case supervision. Once case representation begins, a portion of the classes devoted to case preparation will be structured for case rounds so that students can learn of and from their colleagues’ cases. Once casework begins, students should expect to devote at least 20 hours per week to clinic-related activities.
- Law Reform, Education, and Policy Work: In the second semester, students enrolled for seven points will work on law reform, education, or policy work for the additional two points. Projects in the past have included “know your rights” presentations to youth, interdisciplinary research and policy investigation into current models of adolescent representation, and law reform recommendations to policymakers in the field. During 2009-10, plans were set to develop new models of adolescent representation, including interviewing child advocates in multiple fields and youth in various contexts to determine current policies and practices and to recommend improvements.
"The Child Advocacy Clinic was the first truly fulfilling component of law school for me. I came to law school with the express goal of doing public interest work, and had a difficult time feeling passionate about my class work without it relating to any client contact or relationship. In clinic, my clients' rights and needs—not grades or classmate competition or resumes—became my driving motivation. My enthusiasm propelled me forward, but also needed to be checked, as I learned how to think more thoughtfully about my advocacy. Clinic helped check my excited impulsiveness, and replaced it with a more reflective and long-term perspective about my actions. I still retained my passion, but was able to channel it in a more deliberate and well-reasoned way."
– Kathryn Scheinberg Meyer ’09, Staff Attorney, Center for Children's Advocacy, Bridgeport, CT
In Action: Students' Work In The Child Advocacy Clinic
Matthew Lai '07 and Meg Ciavarella '07 worked on cases involving foster care children. They shared a sense of responsibility for their young clients in foster care and the knowledge that their advocacy meant a great deal in the lives of these children.
Read about their work and the Child Advocacy Clinic In Action.
Faculty Highlight: Professor Jane M. Spinak
Jane M. Spinak is the Edward Ross Aranow Clinical Professor of Law. A member of the Columbia faculty since 1982, she co-founded the Child Advocacy Clinic, which currently represents adolescents aging out of foster care.
To read Spinak’s full biography and to find her contact information, visit the Faculty Contacts page.