By John Masson
Third-year Michigan Law student Paige Fern has been awarded a coveted Skadden Fellowship for a self-designed legal project that aims to ensure foster youth in California are able to take full advantage of the state's education and foster care reforms.
The Skadden Foundation announced the 28 fellowships, awarded nationwide, this month. The fellowships, founded in 1988 by the law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, are intended to fund new graduates in full-time work for legal and other advocacy organizations, and encourage graduates to build public-service careers based on helping poor, disabled, elderly, and homeless people, and other underserved groups.
Because the goal is to give new graduates the ability to pursue the public-interest work of their choice, prospective fellows create their own programs as part of the application process. The two-year fellowships provide each fellow with a salary and fringe benefits equivalent to what they would earn with their sponsoring organizations—in Fern's case, The Alliance for Children's Rights in Los Angeles.
"I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to work with such a great organization on an issue I care passionately about," Fern said. "Annually, over 4,000 youth age out of California's foster care system, and they're largely unprepared for adulthood. Over 60 percent never receive high school diplomas. Only one percent obtain college degrees. The fellowship gives me the opportunity to help ensure that seeing former foster youth in college becomes the norm, not the exception."
She also credited Michigan Law's Child Advocacy Law Clinic—as well as Michigan Law Professors Vivek Sankaran and Josh Kay, both former Skadden Fellows themselves—with providing practical skills and inspirational leadership. That makes sense, given that the Skadden Foundation reports that almost 90 percent of former fellows have remained, like Sankaran and Kay, in public-interest or public-sector work.
Fern's award will enable her to provide technical assistance and training for local agencies that look out for California's foster youth. She'll also be able to explore other ways to improve the prospects of children who find themselves in the foster care system.
"These fellowships are extremely competitive, and we're proud of Paige's success in the process," said Alyson Robbins, Michigan Law's public interest director. "We're grateful to the Skadden Foundation for once again rewarding an outstanding Michigan student, and we're confident that Paige will be able to continue making a significant difference in the lives of children for a long time to come."
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