In 2006, the Child Advocacy Clinic launched a new project to represent adolescents aging out of foster care or other institutional settings. Most clients range in age from 16 to 23. Their issues extend across a broad spectrum of need 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 policy-makers, 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 has four components:
Seminar in Representing Adolescents: a weekly seminar will focus 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 in order to explore adolescence from multiple perspectives.
Class and Simulation Exercises to prepare for casework: students will participate in intensive simulation practice, being introduced to basic lawyering skills including 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, using the approaches and knowledge of many disciplines to represent the client effectively. During September, there will be two additional “boot camp” classes 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 Professor Spinak for case supervision. Once case representation begins, some portion of the classes devoted to case preparation will be structured for case rounds so that students will be aware of and learn from their colleagues’ cases. Once casework has begun, students should expect to devote at least 20 hours per week to clinic-related activities.
Law Reform, Education and Policy Work: during 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 policy makers in the field. During 2009-2010, additional work will be done on developing 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.
In an area of the law in which attorneys carry large caseloads and may be limited in their ability to delve deeply into complicated life situations, students in the Child Advocacy Clinic can make a critical difference in enhancing the ability of their clients to transition into being happy and productive adults.
"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 ‘09
Equal Justice Works Fellow; CAC Teaching Assistant, 2008-09
Professor Jane M. Spinak Professor 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. During the mid-1990s, Professor Spinak served as attorney-in-charge of the Juvenile Rights Division of The Legal Aid Society of New York City. From 2001 to 2006, she was the director of clinical education at the law school. In 2002, she became the founding chair of the board of the Center for Family Representation, an advocacy and policy organization dedicated to ensuring the procedural and substantive rights of parents in child-welfare proceedings. Professor Spinak is a member of the New York State Permanent Judicial Commission on Justice for Children. She has served on numerous tasks forces and committees addressing the needs and rights of children and families and has trained and lectured widely on those issues to lawyers, social workers and other mental health professionals. She has authored books and articles for child advocates and judges on child welfare and Family Court matters including a Permanency Planning Judicial Benchbook. Her current research focuses on Family Court reform as discussed in Adding Value to Families: The Potential of Model Family Courts (2002 Wisconsin Law Review 332) and Romancing the Court (Family Court Review, April 2008). In 2005, Professor Spinak was named a Human Rights Hero for her work on behalf of children by the ABA’s Human Rights Magazine. In 2008 she was awarded the Howard A. Levine Award for Excellence in Juvenile Justice and Child Welfare by the New York State Bar Association. Professor Spinak is currently co-chairing the Task Force on Family Court in New York City recently established by the New York County Lawyer’s Association.