Each year, the foster-care system cares for approximately 400,000 children. Legal cases involving these children raise complex questions: Should the child have been placed in foster care? What types of services should be put into place to reunify the family? Is the termination of parental rights warranted? Should the child return home to her family or be adopted by relatives or foster parents? These are but a few of the challenging questions faced by students in the Child Advocacy Law Clinic (CALC), a seven-credit clinic open to second- and third-year law students. Students taking this clinic represent children, parents, or the Department of Human Services in court cases that may be located in one of six counties. Each student team has a mix of child welfare cases representing each of the three major roles, so they get to see and understand the lawyer role from different vantage points and with different concerns and interests.
Our students don't just learn about law, they learn to be lawyers. Students are in control of their cases, under supervision, and complete all the steps required to take a case to court, just as they will when they begin practicing after law school. Students work in partnerships and find that they have the true lead on their cases. Three clinical law faculty, who are specialists in child advocacy law, supervise up to eight students each and act as advisers, but clinic students make the decisions about their cases. Some law students are drawn to the clinic because of their interest in child welfare law or public interest lawyering. Others are particularly attracted to the intense litigation experience where students end up in court quite often.
With such responsibility, students are thoroughly prepared for each aspect of representing their clients, for their court experience, and for working in the field of child advocacy. The CALC program begins with a series of classes to prepare students for what will happen in court. Class sessions cover child welfare and procedure; preliminary hearing simulations; learning to interview clients, especially children; dealing with evidence; case and trial preparation, including direct and cross examination; and mock trial practices. The law students also address the complex legal, social, emotional, ethical, and public policy questions of when and how the state ought to intervene in family life on behalf of children.
Teams are formed and cases are assigned in the first week of class. From this point through the end of the semester, teams participate in case conferences. Besides the student attorneys, the conferences include the faculty supervisors for each case, as well as a psychologist and a psychology student intern, who provide guidance. Depending on the needs of the case, students might also work with professionals, faculty, or student colleagues from social work, pediatrics, and psychiatry. In addition to clinical psychology, CALC regularly has participating students from other disciplines, including social work graduate students, pediatric residents, public policy graduate students, and journalism fellows.
Learn more about CALC's work from its founder, Prof. Don Duquette.
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