Spring 2017 Update
The students in the Child Advocacy Clinic have had a busy semester in which they have continued advocating for the best interests of existing clients, undertaken several new clients for whom they have developed best-interest-objectives and strategies for accomplishing them, and have confronted and pursued solutions to unique legal issues that vary from case-to-case. We currently have 18 cases on our docket and represent 23 children. We wish we could list every student’s accomplishments, but here are some highlights.
Clinic Chief Counsel Attorney Kayla Johnson
In terms of specific client-related accomplishments this semester, probably the most fulfilling was the successful transition of two long-time clients—six- and eight-year-old brothers—from foster care to their forever home with the couple in the process of adopting them. The Clinic has represented these children since 2012. These young boys have been through far more than they, or any children, deserve at such a young age and have come out the other side with bright futures and a loving, stable home where they are thriving. Clinic students helped to secure termination of the parental rights of their abusive parents, ferreted out foster home neglect and worked to have them moved from those foster homes, and finally – with proactive efforts to help CPS in moving the search along – assisted in finding and approving the loving parents they now have. Kayla Johnson was the student attorney to take these boys across the finish line. The adoption should be finalized very soon.
Clinic Attorney Jordan Newman
Students negotiated for our clients in two successful mediations for cases that had been ongoing for almost a year. In the first, Jordan Newman, collaborated with CPS, CASA, and the parties to the case to secure a monitored return of the baby to her mother, which was our desired outcome. Jordan insisted on certain conditions being fulfilled during the period of monitoring to ensure the safety and well-being of our client. The mother has complied, truly turning her life around, and a final order has been entered in the case reuniting this family once and for all.
Clinic Attorney Kelly Almeter
With respect to the second mediation, Kelly Almeter worked non-stop to help construct a “village” of caring people to support the return of our 1-year-old client to his young and mentally challenged parents. These parents previously did not have the support safety net they needed to ensure they could learn to care for their otherwise loved baby and ensure his well-being. Kelly and the Clinic will continue to monitor the family for the next few months, but thus far, the mediated settlement is progressing successfully.
Clinic Attorney Tasheena Byrd
Tasheena Byrd visited her 15-year-old client, whose mother turned him over to CPS refusing to take responsibility for him, at the Residential Treatment Center facility where CPS housed him some 6 hours away from Dallas. Tasheena was appalled by the atmosphere of the RTC – which we began to refer to as “Jurassic Park” because of the electronic barbed wire fences that enclosed the “ranch” encampment where the children lived. Tasheena advocated for and succeeded in convincing CPS to move our client to a much more suitable facility here in the Dallas area, where he could have visits with family, engage in normal teenage activities in a more home-like environment, and from which we expect him to transition back to family.
Class Project: “Aged Out: The Stories that Built Us”
In addition to serving our child clients, we have made significant progress on our project: “Aged Out: The Stories that Built Us.” The project’s core mission is to provide insight into the child welfare system through the eyes of former foster children who grew up under, then aged out of, State care. Clinic students have researched, planned, and conducted interviews with young adults (eighteen-years-old or older) who have aged out of foster care in order to create podcasts from the interviews that will be shared publicly. The project will be ongoing, continuing each semester with new interviews, new stories, and new ways to provide voices to a historically voiceless population. We hope to have the podcast active by the end of 2017.
Through this project, the students have established invaluable connections with other community organizations, including CitySquare’s Transition Resource Access Center (TRAC) and Persevere UNTil Success Happens (PUSH). TRAC provides a regional safety net for former foster youth when they age out of the system and are facing life on their own. Each year, the program helps more than 800 at-risk teens make a life plan and get the skills they need to survive on their own. PUSH is a student organization at University of North Texas created to provide positive support, resources, and fellowship to foster care alumni at UNT.
Most importantly, the youth who have participated in the Clinic’s project have expressed their gratitude for the fact that our students wanted to hear and encourage others to hear their stories. Telling their stories as they wish, for no purpose but to invite others to experience their lives, has been a cathartic and empowering experience to these youth. Enabling the youth to do this and hearing their stories also has invigorated and inspired our student attorneys.
AND – We got to have one of our classes outside on a beautiful day!