In 2017, the Center for Juvenile Law & Policy (CJLP) at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles, was awarded a $1 million competitive grant by the Everychild Foundation to develop an innovative program to train law students in best practices to represent foster youth involved in educational and juvenile justice proceedings.
On March 11-12, 2021 education, juvenile justice and dependency advocates gathered for "Holistic Advocacy: Working to End the School to Prison Pipeline for Crossover Youth," a symposium dedicated to the discussion of lessons learned over the course of this project and obstacles still to be overcome in direct client service and policy advocacy. Given the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic and its long-term impacts on crossover youth, the symposium focused on this unique historical moment and its opportunities for systemic change.
The unique program, the Everychild Integrated Education & Legal Advocacy Project (EIELAP), over three years trained 36 law students through the Youth Justice Education Clinic and the Juvenile Justice Clinic to assist 300 Los Angeles crossover youth—youth who have “crossed over” from the foster care system to the juvenile delinquency system. Loyola law students worked as part of a collaborative team that included education advocates, criminal-defense representatives and social workers. “Foster youth already have the deck stacked against them when it comes to the criminal justice system,” said Loyola Professor Sean Kennedy, Kaplan & Feldman Executive Director of the CJLP and former Federal Public Defender, Central District of California, at the time of the award. “With the Everychild Foundation’s significant help, we have the power to fulfill a critical unmet need: the holistic representation of foster youth who have been charged with crimes. Together, we have the opportunity to secure justice for kids who have traditionally lacked the means to obtain it.”
“We are extremely proud to be associated with this project,” said Jacqueline Caster, Founder and President of the Everychild Foundation. “Crossover children require a strong advocate to assure them the services and opportunities to which they are entitled, but most often denied. Without this support, they are invariably pushed further along the proverbial ‘Pipeline to Adult Prison.’ However, with education proven to be the best vehicle to avoid this trajectory, the Loyola program has the ability to provide brighter futures for generations of children.”
One example of the difference that EIELAP’s integrated holistic advocacy can make for a client is sixteen-year-old crossover client Mark M. In March, the Juvenile Justice Clinic (JJC) and the Youth Justice Education Clinic (YJEC) secured his release just hours before Los Angeles juvenile detention centers were closed to family visits and days before schools across the county were closed indefinitely. Mark’s arresting offense was proven by YJEC to be a manifestation of his disability, a disability (moreover) of which the school had been made aware but neglected to address appropriately. Consequently the school halted expulsion proceedings. Nonetheless, the felony case against him stood. Two weeks ago, Mark had his day in court, represented in his WebEx hearing in a socially distant way by recent clinical graduate Victoria (Tori) Hirsch, ’20, who remained dedicated to Mark’s case even after graduating and while studying for the bar exam. Thanks to his hard work and the vigilant advocacy of his JJC team, Mark obtained a deferred entry of judgment, an outcome with zero collateral consequences once he successfully completes probation. Having overcome family tragedy and DCFS involvement, Mark is now on his way to graduating from high school and entering adulthood with a clean record and a fresh start. “Everything CJLP has been able to provide him made a difference,” says Tori. “Thanks to everyone on the team I’ve learned what great, thorough representation can look like!”
Another EIELAP client is “Josh,” who has been represented holistically by YJEC and the JJC for years. Josh has a history of abuse and neglect and suffered from unaddressed mental health needs. After being illegally dis-enrolled from his local school, EIELAP Director Megan Stanton-Trehan stepped in to get him reenrolled with appropriate special education classes. During his junior year in high school, a new DCFS case was opened and he was moved to a group home. JJC managing attorney Brooke Harris, who has represented Josh together with students including Angel Silva (’20) and Vanessa Del Real (’21), advocated for termination of probation, and the court agreed. Josh thrived during his senior year and began attending IEPs to advocate for himself. He even served as a peer tutor for other kids in math, his preferred subject. We were thrilled when we got the news that he had graduated from high school earlier this year! And it does not stop with Josh. There were 12 YJEC and JJC clients who graduated high school earlier this year. We are excited for these youth who are beginning the next chapter in their lives.