Columbia Law School Student Receives Prestigious Skadden Fellowship in 2015

Caitlyn B. Carpenter '15 Will Work with Young, Indigent Parents Involved in the Child Welfare System at Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem

New York, March 26, 2015—Caitlyn B. Carpenter ’15 knew when she came to Columbia Law School that she wanted to pursue a career as an advocate for children and young adults. But it was her participation in the Adolescent Representation Clinic that led her to the public-interest work she’ll be doing as one of a select group of law graduates chosen from around the country for this year’s prestigious Skadden Fellowship.

Carpenter will spend her two-year fellowship at the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem (NDS) working with young, indigent parents involved with the child welfare system. She will work in the Family Defense practice at NDS, advocating for her clients after the New York City Administration for Children’s Services has opened an investigation, but before a case has been filed in Family Court. 
“The goal is to prevent unnecessary court intervention and to advocate for supportive services for young parents instead,” she said.
Caitlyn B. Carpenter '15 will spend her two-year Skadden Fellowship working with young, indigent parents involved with the child welfare system at the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem.
 The fellowship’s focus is similar to Carpenter’s work in the Law School’s Adolescent Representation Clinic under the direction of Professor Jane M. Spinak, first as a student and now as a teaching assistant. Through the clinic, Carpenter represents a young father working toward being reunified with his two children after facing charges of neglect.
“My experience with the clinic has really solidified my interest in doing this specific work,” said Carpenter, who earned James Kent Scholar status at Columbia Law School for superior academic achievement. “Most allegations of neglect are really based on collateral consequences of poverty. Young, low-income parents, particularly parents of color, face greater scrutiny from the child welfare system.”
Spinak said Carpenter is the right person for the NDS job. She said Carpenter has “worked tirelessly” to help her clinic client reunify with his family by negotiating agreements, procuring public and private benefits, filing and arguing motions, examining witnesses, and counseling him on a wide range of life-altering decisions.
“She’s done this with a quiet sense of purpose and determination that continues to amaze me,” said Spinak, the Edward Ross Aranow Clinical Professor of Law. “Caitlyn was able to draw on her clinic experience to help her develop her Skadden project to assist and represent young parents before they are drawn too deeply into the child welfare system. She will provide a model for conceptualizing the way in which young parents, and particularly young fathers, can be represented to minimize the disruption of family life and child safety.”
Carpenter called Spinak a mentor and said the clinic has been instrumental in her professional development. She also said her views were shaped by two summer internships at Lawyers for Children in Manhattan and The Legal Aid Society’s Juvenile Rights Practice in the Bronx.
“One of the best ways to advocate for children is to work with parents to preserve family unity and keep children out of foster care,” she said.
Ellen P. Chapnick, dean of Columbia Law School’s Social Justice Initiatives (SJI), which helps students and graduates secure public-interest fellowships and employment, said “Caitlyn will be able to use her considerable talents and the strong preparation she received at Columbia Law School during her Skadden Fellowship.”
Maddie Kurtz ’84, SJI’s director of public interest professional development, worked with Carpenter on the fellowship application process. 
“Maddie and I are very excited that Caitlyn will be able to put her passion to work on behalf of impoverished families,” Chapnick said.
The Skadden Fellowship Program, established in 1988 by Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, pays each fellow’s salary and benefits at a sponsoring organization. The aim of the program is to provide funding for those who wish to devote their professional lives to providing legal services to people who are poor, elderly, homeless, disabled, or deprived of civil or human rights.