The legal system can be a difficult place to navigate for anyone, but imagine a child in foster care or a homeless young adult trying to navigate the system without any professional guidance. Today’s organization was founded to help these kids.
In 1995, an interdisciplinary group of attorneys, social workers, youth workers, judges, teachers, pediatricians, and other children’s advocates in Minnesota realized a need to create an organization that focused on increasing the impact and effectiveness of legal advocacy for foster care and at-risk children. They established the Children’s Law Center of Minnesota in order to help them through some difficult situations and help prepare them for successful adult lives ahead.
The mission of the Children’s Law Center of Minnesota is to promote the rights and interests of Minnesota’s children, especially children of color and children with disabilities, in the judicial, child welfare, health care, and education systems. The organization’s vision is that through their work, abused and neglected youth achieve stability, hope, and opportunity.
Since their founding, the organization has trained over 650 volunteer attorneys, represented more than 1,800 foster children, and helped promote systemic change and advocacy for vulnerable youth throughout the state. The majority of the organization’s volunteers are trained to provide legal representation for youth who are at-risk, homeless, or in foster care. Other volunteers work on special projects such as legal research, copyediting, and graphic design in addition to other legal, paralegal, social work, and administration volunteers and interns.
Today, they serve over 560 child clients each year. They also collaborate with individuals and organizations in the county, court, educational, and health care systems to support coordinated efforts to ensure the basic needs of the state’s most vulnerable youth are legally met and optimized.
The Children’s Law Center also works on reform efforts that result in policies, procedures, and legislation that protects the safety and stability of foster populations. They also provide education to lawyers, judges, social workers, educators, school administrators, law enforcement officials, youth, and other youth serving professionals on the issues that youth in foster care or at-risk situations face.
To better understand the difference that the organization makes, Heather Wolfgram, Director of Development, shared Steven’s story with me:
“Until he was 10, Steven lived with his mom and her boyfriend who was a pimp and drug dealer. The boyfriend routinely beat up Steven and his mom. Steven watched as the boyfriend killed his mother. Child protection placed Steven with his father who had remarried. Steven’s step mother hated and abused him. Eventually, Steven’s father kicked him out of the house and he ended up on the streets. Steven reentered the child protection system where he bounced from foster home to foster home and school to school. He began to act out at school, was put in detention almost daily, and was then placed in a special education program. This all happened before Steven was 14.
Children’s Law Center (CLC) was court appointed to represent Steven when he was 14. When the volunteer attorney took the case, child protection was about to place Steven in a residential treatment program for kids with mental health problems. The CLC attorney fought to keep him out of the facility and to get the mental health assessment that he had never been given. That assessment determined institutionalization was not needed. The attorney then fought to get Steven a stable placement where he felt welcomed and comfortable. The attorney also advocated for an education assessment that resulted in Steven being removed from the special education program and put into a mainstream high school program. As a result, Steven graduated from high school. Finally, the attorney fought the county’s efforts to discharge Steven from the foster care system on his 18th birthday and successfully advocated for transitional living education and funding for living expenses and job training. Steven currently has a full-time job and is living in his own apartment.”
You can also watch Sophie’s story below:
How can you help?
- Children’s Law Center is always in need of financial support from individuals or corporations. You can donate via their website.
- They also have a wish list of in-kind goods and services they are seeking on their website.
- They also have opportunities for lawyers to provide pro-bono attorney services. You can find information on their website.
- In addition, they are looking to partner with groups to put together birthday and graduation packages filled with items such as boxed cake mix, frosting, a card, and a gift card for the youth they work with. Please contact them to arrange a donation.