What is children’s rights law? In essence, it is the point where the law intersects with a child’s life. It is juvenile delinquency and the need to ensure that children involved in the criminal legal system are afforded due process, appropriate representation, and effective rehabilitative services. It is the care and protection of children who may need state intervention to meet their basic needs. It is ensuring that state protection consists of a safe place to live with people who care and who provide other services necessary so children thrive and not regress. It is education for all children regardless of their origin, race, gender, disabilities, or abilities. It is health care and advocacy that enable children to receive appropriate, timely care and to guarantee that children, if capable, have a voice in determining the type and level of medical care offered.
In addition, children’s rights law involves dealing with potentially difficult ethical issues of representation. It means representing a child who will pose different challenges, and offer a different type of satisfaction, than representation of an adult client. Attorneys who represent a child must understand family dynamics and child development. They must also be sensitive to the implication of fundamental principles and values which may conflict such as a child’s right to protection vs. a parent’s right to raise their child. Children’s rights law is all of the above and more.
This guide offers comprehensive concrete and practical suggestions for pursuing a career in children’s law including descriptions of practice settings, issue areas and academic paths. You may also notice organization profiles interspersed throughout the first half of the guide, which offer additional insight into various children’s rights organizations. Additionally, this guide provides personal narratives with specific insights into the practice of children’s law. Finally, this guide contains listings of selected children’s rights organizations and websites.
When representing children, you may practice in a variety of settings. This section describes and provides general background information on four distinct practice settings.
Legal Services/Legal Aid
Legal services agencies often devote a portion of their overall work to children’s legal issues. These agencies rely on government funding to operate, and as a result, may have limited financial resources. Generally, these agencies focus on individual case representation in health, education, social security, and juvenile court matters. A legal services office may have a full or part-time attorney who represents children.
The advantages of a legal services office are that you will be given immediate client contact and a great deal of responsibility; will have some level of supervision; will likely be afforded flexible working conditions; and will be in a supportive environment of colleagues with similar interests. The disadvantages are that you will not earn a lot of money; your position may be year-to-year depending on funding; your office space may be less than ideal; and the demand for services may overwhelm your capacity.
These organizations rely on a combination of government funding, fee for service, and private grants to deliver legal services. Some of these groups provide individual case representation. Other non-profit organizations may use impact litigation and legislative initiatives to effect changes on behalf of children. In a non-profit organization, attorneys may have varied responsibilities that include: supervising paralegals in case preparation; providing technical assistance to clients; or direct representation in administrative and court hearings. As a general rule, attorneys will work in teams to screen and select new cases, to brainstorm strategies for cases and advocacy in general, and to litigate cases. Non-profit organizations also may offer multi-purpose services on children’s issues such as trainings, drop-in legal clinics and lobbying on specific issues pertinent to children. Because attorneys experience direct client contact, they are often in an excellent position to simultaneously identify broader issues that may require systemic solutions via class action litigation or legislation. The advantages of a non-profit organization are that you will have the opportunity to provide individual case representation, the flexibility to identify and screen impact cases, and the ability to devote resources to legislative initiatives. The disadvantages are that you will earn a lower salary than traditional private firms, have the corresponding need to seek and report on grants, and negotiate fee for services agreements with clients.
The government can also provide opportunities to work on behalf of children. Although it does not represent children directly, a state government agency’s attorneys may appear in court on behalf of the agency in abuse, neglect, commitment or treatment option cases. Government agencies typically have large legal staffs and a decentralized system of field offices. Attorneys work on a number of individual cases and often engage in litigation on a daily basis. In addition, government attorneys also draft statutes, regulations, and policies which have a direct impact on children. Typical state government agencies dealing with children’s rights are Departments of Social Services, Mental Health, Education, Developmental Disabilities, and Youth Services. In these state agencies attorneys are likely to appear in court on a regular basis seeking protective orders on behalf of children, or they may draft statutes, regulations, or policies. In the federal government, the Department of Education, which includes the Office for Civil Rights, and the Department of Health & Human Services are generally involved in working on policy issues and may also investigate individual complaints or cases. Unlike state agency attorneys, federal agency attorneys do not typically litigate cases. The advantages of government agency employment include the immediate exposure to and responsibility for individual cases or initiatives; job security; and the availability of solid supervision. The disadvantages are working within a large bureaucratic structure that may move both slowly and in different directions, the inability to advance your career meaningfully within an agency structure, and the lack of control over your caseload.
Private Public Interest Firms
Some private public interest firms specialize in issues relating to children. For example, private attorneys seek services for a child through a direct retainer arrangement with parents. In this situation, representation centers on matters related to education, medical treatment, guardianship, criminal charges, or other government entitlements. Since the retainer is executed by the child’s parents, the attorney takes direction from the parents, though the representation impacts the child directly. Private firms also may provide legal advice and representation to entities that work with children. As an illustration, school districts may require legal advice on the many legal mandates associated with the education of children, including children with disabilities, or hospitals may require guidance on legal issues relating to treatment of children. As court-appointed counsel, private attorneys seek educational or medical benefits for children, or they may be assigned to investigate and report to the court on a child’s needs. The advantages of private firm work are direct client contact and representation, a potentially superior salary, an array of office support services, and good supervision. Because private firms may not specialize solely in public interest work, a disadvantage can be that an attorney may be required to perform legal work unrelated to children’s law in order to help the firm fund its public interest work. In addition, case selection may be based on ability to pay instead of the merits of particular case or issue, and an attorney will generally need to track billable hours.
As noted in the Introduction, children’s rights law encompasses a number of issues. For this guide’s purposes, however, the organizations and issues discussed below have been categorized into four areas: Juvenile Justice, Care and Protection, Education, and Health Care. While some organizations work in just one of these content areas, many organizations perform work in some or all of the content areas because each child’s situation generally requires a multi-faceted solution.
Each state’s juvenile justice system addresses issues relating to children who are charged with criminal conduct such as assault & battery, possession or distribution of drugs, and other misdemeanors or felonies. Children may be facing detention, commitment to a youth agency, or incarceration. Representation is critical at each stage of the juvenile justice process because an attorney can ensure appropriate due process, disposition, and services for the child. For example, children in the juvenile justice system may need special treatment and educational programming. An attorney must explore these avenues effectively and thoroughly on a child’s behalf.
Care & Protection
When children are at risk or subject to abuse or neglect in their homes, they may need services such as protection, shelter, or treatment provided by a state’s protective services agency. In addition, parents may be unable to provide appropriate interventions to meet a child’s needs. In these situations, judges are generally required to appoint counsel to represent a child’s interest in a proceeding designed to decide whether to remove a child from their home. Attorneys exercise a vital role by counseling their client, the child, regarding options available to them. These options may include foster care, treatment programs, ongoing counseling, or group home placement. Without effective representation, children may be removed from their homes or continue to reside in an unsafe home; moved into inappropriate programs; forced to cycle from placement to placement; or denied needed services.
Advocacy on behalf of children occurs frequently in the context of education. With the increasing emphasis placed on education through testing of students for promotion and graduation as well as issues relating to violence in schools, education has increasingly assumed the spotlight in today’s society. Hence, legal issues arise more frequently. For example, children’s rights are involved in issues of bilingual education, special education, education reform, or school discipline.
In bilingual education, systemic issues such as access to education, nondiscriminatory testing, and tracking may arise. Work in the bilingual education context may, therefore, focus on systemic monitoring of school districts, compliance with existing federal and state statutes, or legislative initiatives. Research, coalition building, and lobbying skills are important in bilingual education.
In special education, implementation of federal and state special education statutes arises in the context of individual cases. Consequently, attorneys work with individual clients and use negotiation and litigation skills in attempting to secure appropriate educational services. These highly emotional cases require an understanding of the myriad legal requirements as well as educational methodologies and an ability to mediate successfully. In addition, class action and legislative activity is common in the special education arena. Attorneys may also work in firms that advise and provide representation to school districts on special education issues.
Education reform requires systemic initiatives and policy work. It involves policy development and implementation at the local, state, and federal level. Statewide testing, curriculum revision, and teacher certification requirements are examples of education reform work. Consequently, attorneys generally work in government agencies or in the legislature.
Finally, student discipline requires representation in school suspension and expulsion cases. With the increasing focus on school violence, many students face suspension and expulsion each year. Suspension and expulsion are tied directly to due process, and attorneys play a vital role in ensuring that appropriate notices are issued and hearing procedures are followed, and decisions are rendered based on accurate information. Work in this area will, therefore, involve individual case advice and representation as well as legislative work to address system-wide issues.
Children may require legal representation to ensure that appropriate medical decisions are made on a child’s behalf. For example, if a child requires highly invasive medical interventions, state law may require judicial review of the decision. In addition, children with mental health disabilities may be the subject of involuntary commitment proceedings for treatment. In each of these cases, judges appoint counsel for children to ensure that their individual interests are protected. In addition, access to health care and government benefits such as social security disability may require the assistance of counsel to gain access to services. As a result, attorneys may represent children in government benefits hearings, or they may lobby legislatively to assure continuation or enhancement of benefits.
Finding a Job
Finding a children’s law job is fundamentally different than the average job search. The field is small and most organizations and lawyers are part of a tight-knit network. As a result, your first step into the field can be important because it may establish not only contacts, but a reputation as well. Some useful guidelines to follow:
Assess Your Prior Experience
Employers generally look for a demonstrated interest in working with, or on behalf of, children. For example, did you work at a camp; did you tutor children; have you worked in schools; have you served as a Big Brother/Sister; have you volunteered as an advocate for children? All of these experiences demonstrate a commitment to children and children’s issues. Look particularly at your college, law school, or work years and focus on your experiences with children. How are they relevant to your current interest in a legal career involving children’s rights? Begin to think big-picture about how this earlier experience dovetails with your current legal career plans.
Research the Children’s Law World
Learn as much as possible about different organizations that provide services for children. Start by looking through the organizations and websites listed in this guide. Also, explore listings through the American Bar Association and state bar associations. For example, the ABA’s Directory of Children’s Law Programs describes many children’s law organizations. Consider seeking informational interviews with organizations of high interest to you. Not only will you learn valuable information and interview skills, but you will also raise your visibility with those organizations.
Use Your Time in Law School Wisely
Examine your courses. You need not enroll in courses directly relating to children’s law, but you should take advantage of courses that may help you understand the world of children’s law more completely. For example, courses relating to family law, education law, and juvenile justice offer different insights into the world of children’s rights. In addition, clinical programs that allow direct administrative or court hearing experience can be invaluable. Extra-curricular activities are also important. Membership in law school or other non-law school organizations that deal with children’s issues can be very important in building a resume.
Choose Your Law School Jobs Carefully
You will have several significant opportunities to gain valuable work experience during summer internships as well as during the school year. Working at an organization dealing with children’s issues is critical for at least one of your work experiences. It displays an interest and commitment to the field, and it also enables you to assess your true interest in the field. Finally, working in a children’s rights organization allows you to begin the valuable process of networking.
Develop a Network of Contacts
The world of children’s law is small. Therefore, personal contacts can be extremely important. Using your internship experience, your extracurricular activities, and OPIA resources, start talking to your contacts to gather information and to learn of current job possibilities.
Frequently Asked Questions
How can I show an employer that I have an interest in children’s law?
Examine your background and make a list of your experiences and contacts with children. Have you taken courses that relate, even tangentially, to children’s issues? Have you attended conferences or presentations that you can discuss as triggering an interest in children’s law? Are there articles that you have written, or read, that focus on children and tie into your interest? Have you handled cases at firms or agencies that caught your attention and interest and that involved children’s issues? All of these examples can be used to construct a background that shows an interest in helping children using the law. Your goal should be to construct a road map that leads logically to that exact point in time when you are applying to an organization so that the prospective employer can say, “I know why this student wants to work for us.”
During an interview, what should I discuss?
First, do your homework and learn about the organization. Identify the mission and the type of work undertaken. Try to learn about significant cases or policy initiatives that the organization is handling or undertaking. This background knowledge shows an employer that you have prepared for the interview and that you can contribute to the organization. Also be prepared to discuss a relevant event (case, experience, etc.) that involved your interaction with a child or with children’s issues. This discussion enables you to display your interest in children’s law from a personal perspective.
What should I look for when examining potential children’s organizations for internships?
Look for a well-organized internship program that offers structure, support, and feedback. Solid internships generally have a person in charge of the program who is responsible for coordinating an intern’s schedule. In addition, examine the type of work involved. Is it all research? Is there an opportunity to work with clients? Does it involve legislative work and lobbying? Finally, use OPIA’s resources such as summer job evaluations and mentor contacts to assess the quality of organizations and their internship programs.
Does geographic location matter when I select a children’s law internship?
Because the world of children’s law and organizations is small, there is good general knowledge across the country about most children’s law organizations. Due to this network, it is possible to work in an internship in Washington, D.C. during one summer even though the long-term geographic goal may be to live in Seattle. It is, however, easier to build a local network of contacts by completing internships in the same geographic area both during law school and for post law school employment.
What if I have no real background in children’s issues but really want to practice in this area of the law?
First, go through your background carefully to determine if, in fact, there are examples of children’s involvement in your past that you can reference. Second, develop a plan of action that shows how you will begin to gain knowledge and experience in children’s law. For example, identify courses that you can take, organizations you can join, and volunteer opportunities available.
Note that all personal narratives in this Guide reflect titles that were current when the narratives were collected.
Jodi Grant, HLS ’93
Executive Director, Afterschool Alliance
I came to Harvard Law School in 1990 with a simple, idealistic goal: I wanted training and credentials that would let me spend a career working to make the world a better place.
During my undergraduate years at Yale, I taught in a New Haven summer program for kids. My students were children from poor families, very few of whose parents had gone on to college. The kids lived in dangerous neighborhoods and had been identified as their teachers as youth with promise. Yet, for many, maybe most, college was not part of their expectations for their future.
There’s one student I remember vividly. He was from a troubled family, and was in the habit of doing the bare minimum to get along. He had started to get into trouble at school and his teachers were worried that he was headed down a dangerous path. He’d do most of his assignments, occasionally even well, but he never really engaged or applied himself. My teacher friends today tell me that it’s all too easy for kids with minimal motivation to slide through school, because the higher achieving kids on one end of the spectrum and the significantly underachieving kids on the other demand most of the attention in a classroom with 30-plus students.
I wasn’t an experienced teacher, but this was a summer program with just eight kids in my classroom. So I dug in with him, and pushed him to work hard and challenge himself. It was a hard struggle for both of us – for me because much of the terrain was new to me, and for him because he’d gotten very good at coasting his way through school. But eventually, we connected, and his work and his behavior improved dramatically. I remember thinking as he left on the last day of the session that he’d learned how to be a good student that summer – due largely to his own hard work, but that I’d played an important role in showing him the way. Even more important, I saw him take pride – in his work and in himself.
What an inspiration he was! All those stories I’d read about teachers pulling a student back from the brink of failure has new meaning…it turns out it really can happen! That was the energy and sense of possibility I took with me to Harvard.
In approaching my time at HLS, I knew going in that I wanted to concentrate on preparing for a career in public policy, with a focus on children, education and families. I took classes at the Kennedy School, and tapped the resources of the School of Education. And in my legal studies, I tried to stay focused on public policy, even though I found the curriculum geared, understandably, toward the more traditional types of legal practice.
During summer breaks my first two years of law school, I worked for firms in New Haven and then on Wall Street. In the winter of my third year, I went to San Francisco to intern with the Youth Law Center. My legal work there was on behalf of incarcerated children. The Youth Law Center had discovered that many of the kids in California’s juvenile detention facilities had learning disabilities, and that they were therefore eligible under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act for help beyond the routine and, frankly, unacceptable schooling they were getting in detention. The resulting extra assistance knocked down a barrier that prevented children who had committed offenses from falling irretrievably behind in school, all but guaranteeing that they would drop out and find themselves locked into a cycle of poverty and crime.
In my third year at HLS, I had the good fortune to escort then-Attorney General Janet Reno around the law school on a tour. In between stops at Harkness and Griswold, I told her I wanted to pursue a career in public policy, and she urged me to come to Washington and take a job in the Justice Department.
Who was I to reject the wise counsel of the Attorney General of the United States?! So I turned down my law firm offers and traveled to Washington – without a job. While waiting for a position at the Justice Department to come through, I worked temporarily as a legal secretary and took a short-term job with a law firm that needed a few weeks of legal help.
All the while, I kept up my job search. That effort led me to Capitol Hill, where I happened one day to run into then-Senator Carol Moseley Braun while waiting for an elevator. I summoned up my courage and put my résumé in her hand, which led to a meeting with her top policy staffer. His sage advice was that if I wanted to work on children’s and family issues, my best bet was to land a job on one of the committees that controlled money. That led me to the Senate Budget Committee, where I eventually took a job as Counsel. In my time there, I put my Harvard-trained legal skills to work on a range of children’s and family issues, including funding for education, legal services, health care and childcare.
After almost four years with the Budget Committee, I moved on to the Senate Leadership office, doing public liaison work, which is to say that I worked with the huge array of public interest organizations in Washington and beyond – learning from them, connecting their expertise and their grassroots punch to the legislative process.
Eventually, one of those organizations wooed me away from Capitol Hill: the National Partnership for Women & Families, formerly known as the Women’s Legal Defense Fund. As the Partnership’s Director of Work and Family Programs, children’s issues figured prominently in my work, since many of the problems women face in the workplace – health care, child care, inflexible hours, maternity leave, and others – are children’s issues at heart.
Those issues had taken on even more personal importance to me, as by then, my husband and I had started a family, and I was the proud parent of two daughters. So in 2005, when I became executive director of the Afterschool Alliance, it was as if my personal and professional lives had come full circle. I was working on the very issues that inspired me to work in the public sector, and I was a working mom who needed quality afterschool care that would not only keep my child safe, but introduce her to enriching and exciting extracurricular activities that would help her grow as a person.
Today, I have the great pleasure of leading an organization that is at the forefront of a movement working to transform the after-school hours for millions of American children. Every day, about 14.3 million children take care of themselves after school ends, including almost four million middle school students in grades six to eight. Those kids are at heightened risk for a variety of inappropriate behaviors – from substance abuse to juvenile crime to premature sexual activity.
Kids in afterschool programs have a very different experience. They get help with homework; take part in enrichment programs that reinforce or expand on the regular school- day curriculum; go on field trips to science and technology labs, dance and music performances; and take part in sports or other physical activities. So instead of sitting in front of a television flipping channels, or at a computer surfing the Internet, or perhaps getting into trouble in any of a variety of ways, kids at afterschool programs are safe and learning. Meanwhile, their parents are freed from worries about what their kids are up to each afternoon.
But we’ve got a long way to go before the afterschool movement has achieved its vision. Just 6.5 million children are in afterschool programs today, while the parents of another 15.3 million children say their kids would participate if a program were available. In most cases, it isn’t.
The Afterschool Alliance works to educate the public, the media and policy makers about the enormous potential of quality afterschool programs and how programs across the country are inspiring children and creating opportunities for them to succeed academically, socially and professionally. The Afterschool Alliance serves as a national voice for afterschool and provides resources and materials to more than 20,000 afterschool programs. It organizes national and local afterschool events including the organization’s signature event, Lights On Afterschool; conducts research on the need and support for afterschool; develops public service advertising campaigns with The Advertising Council; creates tools for afterschool practitioners; and connects afterschool leaders to national, state and local opinion leaders.
It is incredibly rewarding work, and I have no doubt that my Harvard Law education was a vital link in the chain of sometimes deliberate and sometimes serendipitous steps that led me to the Afterschool Alliance. I’m grateful to that young man at the New Haven summer program who made me work to motivate him, because he inspired me to pursue a career in service of children and families. I’m proud I made the difficult choice to turn down jobs at law firms and instead pursue my goal of using my degree to do public policy work. I’m thrilled to be working for an organization whose staff and supporters, like me, wake up every day determined to make the world a better place.
Cynthia Godsoe, HLS ’98
Advocates for Children New York
I went to law school specifically in order to be an advocate for children. I quickly learned, however, that there are many ways to work with children as an attorney because virtually every area of public interest law deeply influences some children’s lives. The debates over both access to and quality of healthcare affects children nationwide; land-use and environmental justice affect children whose developing immune systems and tendency to play outside make them most susceptible to toxins in their environment; and criminal law and incarceration policies affect not only the minors entering the criminal legal system (convicted as adults or adjudicated as juvenile delinquents), but also the many children whose parents are incarcerated or in the system. Every public interest lawyer is thus in some sense a children’s advocate.
After graduating from law school I spent a year clerking, a wonderful experience where I learned from the judge I worked for how the law can be both compassionate and fair. At the conclusion of my clerkship, I was awarded a Skadden Fellowship to work at the Child Care Law Center (“CCLC”) in San Francisco. I felt very lucky to receive a fellowship, not only because it funded my opportunity to jump right into children’s advocacy, something that is not always possible right after law school, but also because the Skadden network was and remains an incredibly supportive and inspiring group of public interest attorneys. I was very excited about CCLC’s mandate of advocating for affordable quality child care for all families, including those transitioning from welfare to work or families including children with disabilities. I chose CCLC in large part because a wonderful mentor of mine, Alice Bussiere, was the managing attorney there. It was important to me, especially as a new attorney, to work with someone I could learn from, both about lawyering skills and, more importantly, about ethical and professional conduct in the representation of children and families.
Because CCLC is a legal services support center which engages in mostly policy work, training and impact litigation, I started out my public interest career in a somewhat “backwards” fashion. Most attorneys start with direct service work and then go on to impact litigation or training. I wanted to compensate for my lack of “front line” experience and thus took on some individual cases, representing parents seeking subsidized child care at hearings, and a child care provider seeking protection from a discriminatory landlord. I also sought contact with people as much as possible, volunteering to draft affidavits and interview witnesses, et cetera. I actively pursued feedback about the issues facing parents and child care providers, and how policies were actually impacting people in practice, from the hundreds of direct legal services attorneys, parents, child care providers and others, whom I trained and assisted on our hotline. When I later returned to impact litigation after representing children directly, conducting the same type of attentive outreach helped me retain perspective on how the law was affecting children and families – something that can be difficult when working on issues from a global or policy level.
After moving to New York City, I spent the next two and a half years representing hundreds of children and young people directly in education, child protective and juvenile delinquency cases at the Juvenile Rights Division of the Legal Aid Society (JRD). Although I spent most of each day in Family Court, being a “law guardian” (as the lawyers representing children in Family Court are called) often entailed drawing on skills very different from those learned in traditional law school classes—interviewing clients of all ages and capabilities about intimate, often painful, topics such as sexual abuse, or negotiating with agency personnel to ensure that my clients were placed in the right special education environment or foster home. In doing so, I learned a great deal from non-attorneys, including my social worker colleagues and educational personnel. I also grew to recognize that the extremely scarce resources for children and youth – in virtually every area from foster care to education to mental health – meant that there were sometimes no clear solutions because government agencies sometimes could not implement the services that were mandated in a particular case. Although it sometimes went against my nature, trained as an attorney to pursue one goal through traditional (i.e. courtroom) legal advocacy, I learned to develop a more flexible approach and to seek solutions other than court “victories,” as such victories were sometimes merely nominal unless the child’s family, foster family and/or agency and support workers were invested in the outcome and everyone worked on creative solutions. For instance, after winning a Person in Need of Supervision (“PINS”) hearing “entitling” my thirteen-year-old client to return home to live with his mother, with whom he constantly fought and who did not appear interested in caring for him as he became a teenager, I instead negotiated the mother’s consent to the child’s godmother having custody of him.
During my time at JRD, I was struck by the way that the legal system often pigeonholes children into one of two roles – either the “good, victimized child” or the “bad, irredeemable child.” This tendency by judges, prosecutors, and even the children’s lawyers themselves to understand children only within this bipolar framework ignores the nuanced reality that each child is unique and multifaceted with strengths and weakness. There were even times when the same child was viewed and discussed very differently once [they] moved from being a foster child to being accused of an act of juvenile delinquency (an unfortunately not uncommon occurrence). To compensate, children’s advocates must present their clients to decision-makers, such as judges, as the complex individuals that they are. This entails, first and foremost, listening to them – uncovering their stories and finding out what is important to them, rather than making assumptions about their motivations and desires.
For instance, after winning a hearing entitling my fifteen-year-old client with a learning disability to private school at public expense, she was admitted to a school (reputed to be the best for her disability) to which she had to travel by herself over an hour and a half each way. She soon began cutting class (something she had not done in the past). I learned that not only was she unhappy and exhausted traveling that distance daily, but she also wanted to be in school near her home so that she could help care for her younger siblings—something I had never asked her about or known was important to her. We reached a solution where she transferred to a school closer to her home, granted extra tutoring in her neighborhood, and thus had some flexibility to accompany her siblings. She excelled in her new setting and eventually graduated from high school.
I followed this experience with a brief stint in the special litigation office of JRD, where I worked on impact litigation to secure mental health services for children and adolescents as well as policy initiatives to reduce the number of incarcerated children. In 2004, I moved to Advocates for Children of New York, Inc. (“AFC”), where I litigated class action suits to secure equal educational services for all children in New York City, particularly those with disabilities and those who were incarcerated in city jails, as well as those returning to city schools after being incarcerated upstate. Having worked in direct legal services, I welcomed the opportunity to address on a systemic level some of the issues I had seen numerous clients face. Working with trial attorneys and advocates across the city on large-scale litigation also allowed me to gain a more holistic view of children’s advocacy. At Legal Aid I had recognized that many of my clients in the juvenile justice system were being deprived of an adequate education, but at AFC I realized that many other youth were as well, due to the failure of city agencies to fulfill their duty to educate all children. Having identified widespread problems in the education and juvenile justice systems, it was very rewarding to litigate and negotiate with the city to address these issues. Although the pace of impact litigation can sometime be frustratingly slow, significant policy and practice changes have already been effected. For instance, shortly after one of our cases was filed, the Department of Education ceased discharging children permanently from their “home” school when they were incarcerated, so that when children are released, they are automatically entitled to return to the home school. After several years at AFC, I joined the Children’s Law Center (“CLC”) as an appellate attorney, representing children in appeals in custody, visitation, paternity, immigration and domestic violence cases.
In the course of representing children in these varied cases – delinquency, education, custody – and in various advocacy roles – as a direct services provider, impact litigator and appellate attorney – certain commonalities have emerged. First, because our society leaves children disenfranchised and virtually voiceless, many different kinds of advocacy are required no matter what the substance of the case or the position of the attorney. Negotiating with service providers can often be as effective as litigating each case through trial. Moreover, every child and young person needs the support of caring and capable adults in order for [them] to thrive. Every children’s advocate is really a family advocate, and attorneys for children should look at their roles more broadly, because the most effective way to achieve the best outcome for their client – be it an adoptive home or freedom from incarceration – often entails seeking services such as housing, public assistance or respite care for the adults in the child’s life. Although we may want to take every client home with us, we cannot nor would we be helping them most by doing so. My first day at Legal Aid, an experienced attorney said to told me that the best legacy a child’s advocate can give their client is to be in and out of the child’s life as quickly as possible, after helping the child and family weather a crisis. After nine years as an advocate and having two young children myself, I now realize the truth of her words. Raising children is difficult, especially when housing is becoming more expensive, so many people fail to earn a living wage and public education lacks some basic and necessary resources. Happily, most children have an adult in their lives – whether it’s a parent, grandparent, teacher or older sibling – who with some support can best ensure that children grow into healthy, happy and productive adults. Thus, a little advocacy goes a very long way.
Although I am leaving children’s advocacy to teach full time next year, I will continue to be involved through a number of volunteer opportunities: I am working with some parents of children with autism to develop a new school for children with disabilities, and I advocate to help low-income families in New York gain free access to the city’s many museums and cultural institutions. I am also confident that someday I will again work primarily as a full-time children’s advocate because, despite the lack of resources and occasional feeling of futility, there is no job more rewarding.
Michael Gregory, HLS ’04
Senior Clinical Fellow and Lecturer on Law and Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative, WilmerHale Legal Services
The last thing Ricardo had time for was peer editing his classmate’s essay. His mother had just been sentenced to two years in the Rhode Island women’s prison for possession of heroin. His older sister, with whom he was now living, was pregnant, out of work, and involved with an abusive boyfriend. If he wanted to eat dinner at night, he had to provide it for himself—and I suspected he had begun selling drugs so he could have money to eat. He wanted desperately to move back to the Dominican Republic and live with his father.
But it was Friday morning. Ricardo was in my 10th grade English class. We had read John Steinbeck’s “The Pearl.” And it was time for my students to pair up and edit each other’s essays.
Unlike some of my students, Ricardo was not particularly defiant or disrespectful. He always impressed me as having a maturity beyond his years. So when I approached him to ask why he was staring out the window instead of giving his partner feedback as instructed, he did not mouth off to me. He did not roll his eyes or mutter a curse word under his breath. He just looked at me, the slightest hint of a smile dimpling his left cheek, and cocked his head vaguely to the side as if to say, “Don’t kid yourself. You can’t seriously think that this essay has anything even remotely to do with what is important in my life right now.” Then he turned back to the window.
There was something about that look on his face then that just leveled me. He was letting me know—with remarkable reserve, even benevolence—that I did not have as much to teach him as I thought I did, that there was a complexity to his life I could not fathom. With that one simple, wordless gesture, Ricardo flummoxed me. I felt unmasked and naive. I felt—to be honest—like an utter fool.
Nine years later, that look is the reason I am a child advocate.
I had a hard time explaining myself to anybody when I was in law school. My colleagues and mentors in education were dubious about my decision to become a lawyer; I had a hard time convincing them that I was not abdicating my commitment to make the world a better place for kids. At best, my classmates regarded my ambition to represent children with polite condescension; in their eyes it lacked the gravitas of litigating on behalf of multi-national corporations or pursuing political aspirations. And, of course, there was my family, who had a difficult time understanding that going to law school was not—finally!—a decision to come to my senses and start doing something that would earn me some money. “Child advocate” was not an archetype that had much resonance in people’s imaginations, notwithstanding the staggering contributions of stalwarts like Marian Wright Edelman and others. No one seemed to get what it was that I wanted to do with my life.
But I knew what I wanted to do, and I knew why I had chosen to go to Harvard Law School.
Ricardo sent me to law school because he had made me realize that—even if I were a better teacher, even if I were an excellent teacher—there would only be so much I could do in that role to help him attain a better life for himself. This is not to say that teachers are not excruciatingly important. It is to say that a good teacher in a bad system cannot do nearly as much for kids as a good teacher in a good system. My realization was that if I wanted a different reality for Ricardo—if I wanted to see a different look on his face when I asked him to care about literature—then he needed more than a good English teacher; he needed a better education system. As a teacher, I could exert direct influence over what went on in my classroom. As a lawyer, I just might be able to exert some influence on the larger institution of public education.
As with most things in life, the opportunities I have had since graduating from law school to embark upon the ambition I set for myself have been as much the product of—what I like to consider—divine inspiration as they have the result of any purposeful design on my part. I received a call from New York City in December of my 3L year informing me that I had been awarded a Skadden Fellowship to begin providing pro bono special education advocacy to families affected by domestic violence in Boston. I had no way of knowing then that several months later my sponsoring agency would hire a senior attorney to be my supervisor who had been doing special education advocacy for twenty years at one of the country’s most respected children’s rights organizations. And, of course, I had no way of knowing that her hire would constitute the beginning of a partnership between Harvard Law School’s Legal Services Center—the location of my fellowship—and the venerable Massachusetts Advocates for Children (MAC).
That partnership gave birth—in 2004—to a project that has come to be known as the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative (TLPI). The mission of TLPI is to ensure that children who have been traumatized by exposure to violence succeed in school. Building on the work begun years earlier at MAC by Susan Cole—the project director and my supervisor—TLPI uses multi-strategic advocacy to ensure schools have the resources they need to provide individual supports to traumatized children in the context of whole-school environments that are trauma-sensitive. Simultaneously, the project serves as a clinical placement for Harvard Law School students who are interested in practicing the various roles of child advocacy in the context of a real systemic change agenda. It is a mouthful to say, but it is wildly exciting.
In a nutshell, when I come to work every day, I get to spend time working closely with families to make sure their children are receiving the services they need in the special education system. I get to meet with legislators and members of the state government in order to educate them about the impact that trauma from exposure to violence can have on learning. I get to read the latest research on neurobiology and child development. I get to collaborate with colleagues from a variety of professional disciplines—law, education, psychology, social work, medicine—to strategize about how we can make childhood trauma—and its impact in schools— a top priority for public policymakers. I get to think deep thoughts about an issue and a population—kids affected by violence—that I am truly passionate about. And I get to do all these things while helping teach law students the skills of child advocacy.
And most importantly—and perhaps naively, though I doubt it—I get to do work every day that has the potential to nudge public schools at least a few steps further in the direction of being relevant to kids like Ricardo.
I humbly share the following lessons that I learned in my search for a career in child advocacy. Perhaps they will be of some use to law students who desire to use their law degrees to make positive change for kids.
- Do (lots of) clinical work. Many of the organizations that do work in the field of child advocacy—at least in the non-profit sector—do not have abundant resources to hire entry- level attorneys because of the huge training costs associated with them. The more clinical education opportunities you take advantage of during law school, the more marketable skills you will have and the less of a “liability” you will be to potential employers. In addition to gaining invaluable skills, clinical work also gives you an opportunity to gain some insight into the type of practice environment you are most comfortable in (e.g., legal services, impact litigation, community organizing, policy analysis, etc.).
- Find good mentors. Your education does not end when you graduate from law school. The most important thing you can do to become a successful advocate is to form relationships with the people who are doing the work you want to do and doing it better than anybody else. Ideally, your direct supervisor will be such a person. At the top of your list of questions for potential employers should be, “What opportunities for mentoring and direct supervision will I have as a lawyer in your office?” If you do not end up with a good mentor at your job, seek one out in another office. As a general rule, it is better to take a job in an office where you are going to get good mentoring—even if the agency does not do exactly the kind of substantive work you want to do—than to take your “dream job” at a place where you will get no professional development or support.
- Beware the path of least resistance. The process of finding a public interest job, particularly in the field of children’s rights, will probably never be as easy or as streamlined as the process of getting a job at a law firm. You have to be creative, tenacious and resourceful to find employment that allows you to follow your passion and make a living at the same time. If you want a career in child advocacy, you have to be prepared for and undaunted by the speed bumps you may encounter in the process.
And lastly, a lesson that I am taught anew each day at TLPI and that reminds me always of that unforgettable look on Ricardo’s face… Kids are complicated people. While it would be a mistake to regard them as just a miniature version of adults, it is also naive to see them as blank slates. They have real fears, real anxieties, real insights, real opinions. And they deserve social institutions that respect their whole beings—in all of their beautiful and confounding complexity. Just like we do. Just like we did.
William D. McCants, HLS ’00
Civil Rights Attorney, U.S. Department of Education
I have been a Civil Rights Attorney for the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR), Boston, for the last four years. As an attorney for the federal government, I am not an advocate for children. Instead, I am a “neutral fact finder” striving to ensure that recipients of federal funds from the Department, from pre-schools to graduate schools, are providing equal opportunity as required by federal civil rights laws regarding disability, race, color, national origin, sex, and age.
My job has brought me in touch with children from the six New England states, as well as Michigan, New York, Ohio and Puerto Rico. I have investigated cases in large urban districts, as well as in a rural K-8 district consisting of about seventy students. I have worked with some very wealthy, highly educated parents, and others who have not graduated from high school and were effectively homeless. I have measured outdoor “accessible routes” with investigative teams in both freezing rain and withering August heat.
The majority of OCR cases concern persons with disabilities, and the bulk of those cases concern the delivery of services to disabled students on education plans. Overall, the federal civil rights laws impacting children – whether by way of statute, regulation, case law, policy, and/or agency interpretation – are as complex and nuanced as they come, and they are constantly evolving. As a result I have never had a dull day of work at OCR, and I never expect to.
My primary role at OCR is to work with an investigator and a team leader on a complaint team. Investigations require ongoing legal analysis, document review, telephone and face-to- face interviews with recipient staff, witnesses, and the complainant, and, as applicable, negotiation of resolution agreements followed by monitoring. Depending on the remedy, monitoring may go on for several years.
Everything at OCR is done with a team approach. This means that while OCR attorneys are fully expected to bring their legal insights and analytical skills to bear at team meetings and in the document-drafting process, everyone is supposed to leave their ego at the door to the team room.
As for those documents, letters are signed by supervisors or managers, and only after multiple levels and rounds of review. That’s fine with me, because I happen to believe that government power should be used with great care and thoughtful restraint. A complaint may concern one aggrieved child, but a district is always also serving the needs of many other children. In most districts, regardless of size, resources are scarce. If, however, an investigation determines that even one student is being denied an equal opportunity to benefit from the services provided by a district, as federal law requires, then remedial action must be taken.
The cases I have been involved in which have resulted in a student receiving services that had been previously denied or mishandled; or where OCR has assured that a child will no longer be subject at school to peer and/or other harassment or discrimination on the bases of disability, race, sex, or age; or even those cases where a district has gotten its procedures in order so that grievants may get the due process to which federal law entitles them, were very satisfying indeed. But every complaint involving children has its rewards, because if nothing else the investigative process reminds all the adult parties involved of what the law requires, both in theory and in practice, on behalf of the young.
My path to OCR was indirect but not illogical, at least not to me. As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. once said, “Life is painting a picture, not doing a sum.” After I graduated from UCLA with a degree in history, I worked for a few years as an investigator for the U.S. Department of the Treasury/IRS in inner-city Los Angeles. The most satisfying part of my job was bringing the law to bear on sweatshop owners who were withholding Social Security taxes from the paychecks of Latina garment workers, and then pocketing the money for their own use rather than passing it along to the federal government.
I wanted to do more for this community, so I earned a teaching credential and spent the next four years teaching U.S. history at a junior high school in the South Central L.A. area. There were seventeen active gangs within a two-mile radius of this approximately 98% Hispanic, 4,100-student school, and I sometimes had to confiscate weapons from my frightened students. But we managed to teach each other a lot. They even inspired me to later write two humorous novels for young adults, published by Harcourt Brace, which allowed me to meet and laugh with young people from a variety of states. In my second novel, I was able to sneak in some references to a few landmark student free speech cases.
I went on to teach honors/Advanced Placement psychology for three years to high school seniors in an upper-middle class Boston suburb, and enjoyed a no less valuable, but vastly different, teaching and learning experience.
During law school, I spent my post-1L summer and then ten hours per week during my 2L fall term with the Legal Office of the Massachusetts Department of Education (MA DOE). Because education is primarily a state function rather than a federal one, the scope of activity in this office was quite broad, ranging from teacher certification and charter school regulation to student records access and school tort liability. After law school, as a clerk for an HLS alum on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, I assisted with several important cases in which the rights of children figured prominently.
Like most law students, I was interested in a variety of legal fields. I spent three years on the staff of the Harvard Environmental Law Review, for example. Following my clerkship, I worked as an associate in the Environmental Law Department at Goodwin Procter, a “Big Law” firm based in Boston. The experience was a valuable one, and it was a true privilege to work in a setting in which so many are both highly intelligent and hard-working, and on a consistent basis. The hours, however, proved to be exceedingly difficult for my wife and two sons, and so for me. Perhaps the most crucial of children’s rights is their right to a parent’s time.
When a Public School Liaison position came open at MA DOE I did not hesitate to accept it, in spite of the massive pay cut. Less than a year later, alerted to an OCR job opening by a colleague at MA DOE who had previously interned at OCR (I have found the education law field to be a relatively small and friendly one), I landed my current position. I am very happy with how things turned out, but I am also convinced that a talented environmental lawyer could find a way to make just as much of a difference in the quality of children’s lives as a civil rights attorney. I also would have been quite pleased to stay at MA DOE and work my way into a permanent position with its Legal Office.
So I leave you with this advice: If you are committed to using your legal skills on behalf of children, I believe you can find a way to do it, regardless of your practice area or employment situation. Because life is painting a picture, not doing a sum.
Selected Organizations (By State)
A nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness of the importance of after school programs and advocating for quality, affordable programs for all children.
Children’s Defense Fund
Advocates for all children with a special focus on the most vulnerable. Works with elected officials, government agencies, faith groups, and individual activists.
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
Helps prevent child abduction and sexual exploitation; helps find missing children; and assists victims of child abduction and sexual exploitation, their families, and the professionals who serve them.
Prevent Child Abuse America
Aims to prevent child abuse and neglect through a number of nationwide programs operated through its various chapters.
Children’s Trust Fund – Department of Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention
Organization with initiative to prevent child abuse and neglect in Alabama through various programs.
Alaska Children’s Trust
Operates through grants and donations, while the interest from the earnings fund small grants to small nonprofits providing prevention programs for child abuse and neglect.
Arizona’s Children Association
One of the largest non-profit agencies in the state to offer foster care, adoption, behavioral health, prevention programs, and other child welfare services.
Children’s Action Alliance
Advocates and creates awareness through research, publications, and media campaigns.
Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families
Researches, educates, debates, compromises and rethinks children’s issues to create sounder public policies and laws for Arkansas’ children.
Center for Public Interest Law and Children’s Advocacy Institute
Works to improve the status, safety and well-being of children. Represents children in the legislature, courts, before administrative agencies and through public education. Educates policymakers about the needs of children including economic security, adequate nutrition, health care education, quality child care, and protection from abuse or neglect.
Child Care Law Center
National nonprofit legal services organization that uses legal tools to make affordable child care available to every child, family and community. Work encompasses public benefits, civil rights, housing, economic development, family violence, regulation and licensing and land use.
Offices in Orange County, New Mexico and Oklahoma. Works with local congregations representing a wide variety of denominations to find families and friends for abused children. Provides foster housing and adoption services.
Children’s Law Center of Los Angeles
Children who have been abused, neglected, or abandoned come under the protection of the Los Angeles County Juvenile Dependency Court system. Children’s Law Center was created by the Superior Court to serve as appointed counsel for these youth.
Legal Advocates for Children and Youth
Provides free legal services for children and youth, including guardianships, emancipations, education law, juvenile dependency, pregnant/parenting teens, and homeless/runaway youth.
Legal Services for Children
Provides direct legal and related social services to children and youth in the San Francisco Bay Area, using teams of attorneys and social workers. The organization represents children and youth in foster care, guardianship, education, emancipation and immigration cases.
National Center for Youth Law
Uses the law to improve the lives of poor children. Works to ensure that children have the resources, support, and opportunities they need for a healthy future. Promotes laws and policies that benefit and protect low-income children and families.
The Alliance for Children’s Rights
Provides free legal services for children living in poverty in Los Angeles. Emphasis on foster care.
Youth Law Center — San Francisco Office
Nonprofit dedicated to the protection of the rights of minors nationwide. Work focuses on reform of the law in juvenile justice and child welfare.
National Association of Counsel for Children
Dedicated to the representation and protection of children in the legal system. Provides training and technical assistance to child advocates and works to improve the child welfare, juvenile justice and private custody systems.
Rocky Mountain Children’s Law Center
Nonprofit legal advocacy organization addressing the unmet legal needs of children.
Center for Children’s Advocacy – University of Connecticut Law
Promotes and protects the legal rights and interests of poor children who are dependent upon the judicial, child welfare, health and mental health, education, and juvenile justice systems for their care.
Children’s Law Center of Connecticut
Protects the interest of indigent children in family court. Manages several programs providing legal advocates to children through representation, staffing a legal helpline that gives information and referrals on topics related to family law and children’s rights, low-cost mediation services, training and support for lawyers who representing children, and advocating the systemic change regarding the rights and treatment of children.
Center for Children’s Law and Policy (CCLP)
Focuses on reform of juvenile justice and other systems that affect troubled and at- risk children, and protection of the rights of children in such systems. Work covers a range of activities including research, writing, public education, media advocacy, training, technical assistance, administrative and legislative advocacy, and litigation.
Child Welfare League of America
National membership organization composed of 850 child welfare agencies. Sets standards for child welfare practice, proposes national public policy initiatives, publishes child welfare materials and provides consultation, training and technical assistance to member organizations.
Children’s Law Center
Provides free legal services to at- risk children, their foster families and kinship caregivers in the District of Columbia. The Center’s mission is to improve the lives of low and middle income at- risk children and their families by providing direct legal representation and advocacy and by offering training and technical assistance to the public and other professionals.
Counsel for Child Abuse and Neglect
A branch of the Family Division of the Court. Provides direct professional assistance to attorneys who represent parents or children in neglect and abuse proceedings before the Court.
Dedicated to the reform of the child welfare system through communication, education and legislation. Advocates for federal, state and local laws that improve the lives of abused and neglected children.
Gault Center (formerly National Juvenile Defender Center)
Works to build the capacity of the juvenile defense bar and to improve access to counsel and quality of representation for children in the justice system. Offers a wide range of integrated services to juvenile defenders, including training, technical assistance, advocacy, networking, collaboration, capacity building and coordination.
Lawyers for Children America
Dedicated to ameliorating the devastating impact of violence on children. Helps to ensure that abused and neglected children are afforded committed pro bono attorneys to speak on their behalf and advocate for their needs.
Delaware Family Court
Has extensive jurisdiction over all domestic relations matters, including divorce, custody, visitation, child and spousal support, and property division. Jurisdiction over intrafamily misdemeanors, misdemeanor crimes against children, and civil domestic, violence protective orders. Jurisdiction over all juvenile offenses except murder, rape, and kidnapping.
Florida’s Children First
Uses legislative and policy advocacy, executive branch education and advocacy, training and technical assistance to lawyers and Guardians Ad Litem representing children, public awareness, and filing of amicus briefs as strategies to improve child serving systems.
Emory Summer Child Advocacy Program
A partnership between Emory University and the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) to provide students with a hands-on learning opportunity in the field of child advocacy, and to provide professionals in the field with the benefits of student interns during the summer months.
Idaho Kids Count
Non-profit organization that advocates for children through research, community education and community organizing.
Illinois Department of Children and Family Services
Child welfare agency serving abused and neglected children and their families.
Middleton Center for Children’s Rights – Drake University Law School
Part of Drake Law School’s clinical programs. Features four distinct program components an interdisciplinary clinical program, a Training Center, a Resource Center, and public policy/legislative initiatives.
Office of the Cook County Public Guardian – Juvenile Division
Represents neglected and abused children in Juvenile Court and class action suits.
Kids’ Voice of Indiana
Offers legal education, training and technical assistance to organizations serving at-risk children.
Kansas Children’s Service League
Focuses on finding homes for abandoned, abused, neglected or orphaned children.
Families & Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children
Dedicated to creating a better life for all of Louisiana’s youth, especially those who are involved in the juvenile justice system, by using education, direct action organizing, and peer advocacy to build stronger communities and work for justice.
Maine Children’s Alliance
Advocates for sound public policies to improve the lives of all Maine’s children, youth and families.
Maryland Committee for Children
Works with parents, child care providers, advocates, employers, and policymakers to expand and enhance the early childhood education and child care available to Maryland’s children.
Center for Public Representation
Organized as a self-sufficient public interest law firm to promote change in the quality of lives of individuals with disabilities in Massachusetts and to pursue the systemic enforcement of legal rights on a statewide and national basis.
Children’s Advocacy Center of Suffolk County
An interagency, public/private partnership dedicated to minimizing trauma to children and families when concerns of abuse arise. Coordinates investigations and assessments with clinical and legal competence in an atmosphere that is safe and respectful of each family’s culture. Collaborates in training and research efforts to prevent child abuse in the community.
EdLaw Project – Youth Advocacy Foundation
An advocacy organization created to ensure equal opportunity in life achievement for Boston youth by enforcing every child’s right to a quality education. Through legal representation, technical assistance, and training to families, youth-serving professionals and attorneys, EdLaw advocates for indigent and low-income children in danger of not receiving appropriate education services. Advocates for children facing suspension and expulsion, ineffective reintegration into the school system following detention or incarceration, inadequate education while in state custody and children with undetected special needs.
Juvenile Defenders Clinic – Suffolk University Law School
Provides representation to indigent youth in Boston juvenile court, conducts policy work on related issues.
Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Advocates for low-income people, minorities, immigrants, elders, and people with disabilities. Provides statewide client impact representation so that major legal problems of those clients can be addressed on a more systematic basis. Focuses on public benefits, housing, family, immigration, health, employment and the rights of minorities and seniors.
Medical-Legal Partnership – Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts
Allies pediatric clinicians with lawyers to ensure that families can meet their children’s basic needs. Combines the law and medicine to address non- biologic factors (food, housing, education, and safety) known to influence child health.
Middlesex County Juvenile Court in Cambridge
Has general jurisdiction over delinquency, children in need of services (CHINS), care and protection petitions, adult contributing to a delinquency of a minor cases, adoption, guardianship, termination of parental rights proceedings, and youthful offender cases.
Suffolk County Juvenile Court in Boston
Has general jurisdiction over delinquency, children in need of services (CHINS), care and protection petitions, adult contributing to a delinquency of a minor cases, adoption, guardianship, termination of parental rights proceedings, and youthful offender cases.
WilmerHale Legal Services Center
A general practice law firm that provides legal counsel to over 1,200 clients annually. The Center is Harvard Law School’s oldest and largest clinical teaching facility.
Children’s Law Center of Minnesota
A small staff of attorneys and social workers with practicing attorneys who provide pro bono service representing youth. Offers a training program for the volunteer attorneys, as well as ongoing support for their work.
Nebraska Children and Families Foundation
Through awarding grants and developing initiatives advocates for children to become fully engaged citizens.
New Hampshire Children and Family Services
Enhances the lives of children through a wide array of programs ranging from adoption services to summer camp recommendations.
New Hampshire Juvenile Court Diversion Network
A coalition of programs dedicated to helping young offenders–the primary focus is to provide juvenile first offenders with an alternative to court, but also works with families to help prevent delinquency and provide services to youth who have already been through court.
Covenant House New Jersey — Youth Advocacy Center
Serves homeless, runaway and marginally housed young people at the state’s largest nonprofit youth/care agency. Coordinates the state child welfare and juvenile justice policy agenda of the agency. Provides direct legal services to homeless, undocumented, immigrant, foster care and at-risk youth.
Pegasus Legal Services for Children
Nonprofit agency that uses legal advocacy to improve the well-being of children in the Albuquerque metro area and beyond.
Administration For Children’s Services – Legal Services – Child Welfare Division
Prosecutes child abuse and neglect proceedings, foster care placement and review proceedings, extension of placements and termination of parental rights proceedings in New York City Family Courts. Additionally, legal counsel is provided to ACS program administrators.
New York City-based national organization that conducts major institutional reform class actions in the area of child welfare and foster care.
Covenant House – Legal Services Office
Provides legal education and advocacy for runaway and homeless youths staying in the shelter.
Human Rights Watch – Children’s Rights Division
Monitors human rights abuses against children around the world and works to end them. Investigates all kinds of human rights abuses against children: the use of children as soldiers; the worst forms of child labor; torture of children by police; police violence against street children; conditions in correctional institutions and orphanages; corporal punishment in schools; mistreatment of refugee and migrant children; trafficking of children for labor and prostitution; discrimination in education because of race, gender, sexual orientation, or HIV/AIDS; and physical and sexual violence.
Lawyers For Children
Nonprofit legal services organization that represents children in foster care, abuse, neglect, termination of parental rights, custody and visitation proceedings in New York City. All cases are assigned to LFC by family court judges.
Legal Action Center
A non- profit law and policy organization that fights discrimination against people with histories of addiction, HIV/AIDS, or criminal records, and to advocate for sound public policies in these areas.
Legal Aid Society – Juvenile Rights Division – Manhattan Office
Represents children in child protective and juvenile delinquency cases.
Prepares urban youth from underserved communities in New York City to compete at high academic levels by using intensive legal and educational programs as tools for fostering vision, developing skills, enhancing confidence, and facilitating the pursuit of higher education.
National Coalition for Child Protection Reform
Dedicated to improving the child welfare system through public education and litigation. Conducts affirmative litigation and community advocacy that will affect systemwide change. Also provides legal back-up to attorneys across the country and does community education on family rights.
New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children
Works for the prevention of child abuse and neglect.
New York State Division for Youth – Office of Children and Family Services
Devoted to preventing delinquent acts from occurring through positive youth development and by connecting family, school and positive peer groups.
Provides integrated and intensive services at a single site, free of charge to adolescents between the ages of 12 and 21, including education and career services, legal services, health care, mental health counseling, recreation and arts. Provides civil legal counsel and advocacy services to young people in multiple areas, including immigration, public benefits, family and employment law.
Action for Children North Carolina
Advocates for child well-being through community education to ensure that children are healthy, safe and well-educated.
Center for Adolescent Health and the Law
Works to promote the health of adolescents and their access to comprehensive health care. The Center addresses legal and policy issues that affect access to health care for the most vulnerable youth in the United States. The Center provides information and analysis, publications, consultation, and training to health professionals, policy makers, researchers and advocates who are working to protect the health of adolescents.
Guardian ad Litem Program – North Carolina Judicial Branch
Provides Guardians Ad Litem for all minors involved in custody issues. Attorneys advocate for each child involved in these disputes and represent the child’s interests as separate from those of the parents and of the Department of Social Services.
Legal Aid of North Carolina
Advocates that at-risk and/or court- involved children are rights-bearing citizens, who are entitled to safe, permanent homes and should receive the medical and educational services currently promised by law.
Prevent Child Abuse North Dakota
Dedicated exclusively to preventing child abuse in North Dakota through community education, outreach and organizing.
Trains volunteers to serve as Court Appointed Special Advocates for abused and neglected children and works on behalf of older children awaiting adoption.
Children First for Oregon
Through advocacy, research, policy analysis, public education and media outreach promotes community education. Aims to hold politicians accountable to children and their families.
Juvenile Law Center
Nonprofit, tax-exempt, law center specializing in the legal rights of children. Advances the rights of children involved with public agencies by working for the reform and coordination of the child welfare, juvenile justice, mental health and public health care systems.
Provides legal representation to abused, neglected and at-risk children. Advocates for the safety and well-being of children victimized by crime, mistreatment and severe neglect.
Support Center for Child Advocates
Legal and social service advocacy for abused and neglected children.
Rhode Island Office of the Child Advocate
Independent and autonomous Rhode Island state agency responsible for protecting the legal rights and interests of children in state care.
Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe – Indian Child Welfare Program
Litigates off-Reservation cases where Tribal children are in state custody. The legal department provides support to Tribal Council and Courts.
Home School Legal Defense Association
Established to defend and advance the constitutional right of parents to direct the education of their children and to protect family freedoms. Advocates on the legal front by fully representing member families at every stage of proceedings. Files actions to protect members against government intrusion and to establish legal precedent.
A program of the Legal Aid Justice Center, a nonprofit legal services provider, with offices in Charlottesville, Richmond, Petersburg and Falls Church, Virginia. Employs many strategies to ensure that young people in Virginia have access to services and supports. Lawyers and law students provide legal representation to youth. Provides information to parents. Publishes handbooks and holds workshops for parents and providers. Partners with local departments of Social Services and other foster care agencies to train professionals.
Provides civil legal advocacy to youth involved or at risk of being involved in the juvenile justice system. Focuses on helping clients gain access to appropriate education programs, mental health services, public benefits and safe/stable placements.
ABC for Health
Provides legal services, advocacy, training and research on behalf of health care consumers, with a focus on children with special health care needs.
Beijing Children’s Legal Aid & Research Center
China’s first NGO specializing in children’s rights. Provides direct legal services, while also pursuing research and legal reform advocacy.
Child Workers in Asia
Established as a support group for child workers in Asia, and the NGOs working with them. From a small group of five organizations, it now brings together over 50 groups/organizations working on child labor in 14 countries. It facilitates sharing of expertise and experiences between NGOs and strengthens their collaboration to jointly respond to the exploitation of working children in the region.
Children’s Legal Centre
Provides legal advice and representation to children, their carers and professionals throughout the UK.
HAQ: Centre for Child Rights
A non-profit society founded in 1999, HAQ: Centre for Child Rights is dedicated to the recognition, promotion and protection of the rights of all children.
National Council for the Child
Nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the rights and welfare of children in Israel.
(By Practice Setting)
- Administration for Children’s Services, Legal Services, Child Welfare Division
- Alaska Children’s Trust
- Children’s Defense Fund, Department of Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention
- Children’s Law Center of Los Angeles
- Counsel for Child Abuse and Neglect
- Delaware Family Court
- District Attorney of Suffolk County, Children’s Advocacy Center
- Emory Summer Child Advocacy Program
- Guardian Ad Litem Program for Buncombe County, North Carolina
- Illinois Department of Children and Family Services
- Kentucky Child Now
- Middlesex County Juvenile Court
- New Hampshire Children and Family Services
- New Hampshire Juvenile Court Diversion Network
- The New York State Division for Youth, Office of Children and Family Services
- Office of State Senator Karen Spilka
- Public Guardian, Cook County, Juvenile Division
- Rhode Island Office of the Child Advocate
- Suffolk County Juvenile Court
- ABC for Health
- Advocacy Inc.
- The Alliance for Children’s Rights
- Center for Public Interest Law & Children’s Advocacy Institute
- Center for Children’s Advocacy, University of Connecticut Law School
- Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, Indian Child Welfare Program
- Child Care Law Center
- Children’s Law Center of Los Angeles
- Children’s Law Center of Connecticut
- Children’s Law Center of Minnesota
- Children’s Legal Centre
- Children’s Rights
- Covenant House Legal Services Office
- The Door
- Homeschool Legal Defense Fund
- Just Children Program
- Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana
- Lawyers for Children
- Lawyers for Children, America
- Legal Advocates for Children and Youth
- Legal Aid of North Carolina, Advocates for Children’s Services
- Legal Aid Society, Juvenile Rights Division, Manhattan Office
- Legal Services for Children
- Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
- Medical-Legal Partnership for Children
- National Association of Counsel for Children
- National Juvenile Defender Center
- Pegasus Legal Services for Children
- Suffolk University Law School, Juvenile Justice Center
- Support Center for Child Advocates
- WilmerHale (formerly Hale & Dorr) Legal Services
- ABC for Health
- Action for Children, North Carolina
- Advocacy Inc
- Afterschool Alliance
- Arizona’s Children Association
- Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families
- Center for Adolescent Health and the Law
- Center for Children’s Advocacy, University of Connecticut Law School
- Center for Children’s Law and Policy (CCLP)
- Children First for Oregon
- Children’s Action Alliance
- Child Care Law Center
- Child Share
- Child Welfare League of America
- Child Workers in Asia
- Children’s Defense Fund
- Covenant House New Jersey, Youth Advocacy Center
- Drake University Law School, Middleton Center for Children’s Rights
- EdLaw Project
- Emory Summer Child Advocacy Program
- Families & Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children
- First Star
- Florida’s Children First
- HAQ: Center for Child Rights
- Human Rights Watch, Children’s Rights Division
- Idaho Kids Count
- Juvenile Legal Aid and Research Center
- Juvenile Law Center
- Kansas Children’s Service League
- Kids Voice, Pennsylvania
- Kids Voice of Indiana
- Kentucky Child Now
- Lawyers for Children
- Legal Action Center
- Legal Outreach
- Maine Children’s Alliance
- Maryland Committee for Children
- Medical-Legal Partnership for Children
- National Association of Counsel for Children
- National Center for Adoption Law and Policy
- National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
- National Center for Youth Law
- National Council for the Child
- National Coalition for Child Protection Reform
- National Juvenile Defender Center
- Nebraska Children and Families Foundation
- New Hampshire Juvenile Court Diversion Network
- New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children
- Prevent Child Abuse America
- Prevent Child Abuse North Dakota
- Rocky Mountain Children’s Law Center
- Youth Law Center, San Francisco Office
Private Public Interest
- Center for Public Representation
- Children’s Rights
Selected Resources: Children’s Rights Websites
American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law
Site provides general information, breaking news on children’s legal issues, excellent links to other sites, and internship opportunities.
American Bar Association Juvenile Justice Committee
Site focuses on resources for juvenile justice practitioners and provides resources and links.
Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law
Provides information on mental health law including children’s mental health information and resources.
Children’s Defense Fund
Multi-purpose resource site providing information on policy matters, data, and resources.
Child Welfare Information Gateway
Formerly the National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect Information and the National Adoption Information Clearinghouse. This government site provides data and resources.
Child Welfare League of America
Site focusing on policy initiatives and resources; not necessarily law-related in content.
Juvenile Law Center
Site providing resources on all issues pertaining to juveniles with publications and data on specific topics of interest.
Kids Counsel Support
University of Connecticut Law School site that provides research tools and links.
Written by: Dan Ahearn, Attorney Advisor & Ben Holzer, Summer Fellow
Revised by: Lena Andrews, Summer Fellow
Thanks to Lena Andrews for her expert and invaluable research, writing, and editing of the 2007 edition; Alexa Shabecoff for her comments and expert editing; to Cynthia Godsoe, Jodi Grant, Mike Gregory and Bill McCants, who offered their time and insight authoring personal narratives; and to C.A. Webb whose vision inspired this Guide.