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Lawyers and Youth: An Important Partnership

By: Zack Zibrosky

Good advocacy from a qualified legal expert can make a huge difference for youth in foster care and youth experiencing homelessness. Unfortunately for youth in these systems, having adequate legal representation is a scarce resource. At the University of Washington School of Law, the Children and Youth Advocacy Clinic (CAYAC) work specifically with youth experiencing turmoil in their life, including youth in foster care and youth experiencing homelessness, to achieve and maintain stability. The clinic is also a training site for law students to learn and practice how to work with vulnerable youth and young adults.

Working with youth in such a capacity is a special skill and one that takes practice. A training tool used by CAYAC is to have law students conduct mock interviews with a young person from the Mockingbird Society. To prepare law students to work with real clients, Mockingbird youth are given a character to play who is experiencing some sort of turmoil in life and is seeking legal help. I was lucky enough to take part in this activity recently. The role I was given to play was of a sixteen-year-old LGBTQ youth who was kicked out of his home after coming out to his parents. My character was still attending school while couch surfing, and after seeing his school counselor to inquire about taking the SAT, was referred to CPS and CAYAC to talk about his legal options. I participated in two mock interviews where law students practiced their interview skills and experienced what it’s like to talk with a young person in this situation. The role I was given to play was very believable with a surprising amount of details that made it easy to convey and a great case example for the students.

CAYAC gives law students an opportunity to practice the role of an attorney by conducting interviews with real youth experiencing a plethora of different issues in their life. Law students gather facts and execute tasks an attorney would perform, all while still in law school and under the supervision and instruction of a fully certified attorney. Some examples of work past students have done while participating in the clinic are drafting motions designed to secure a child’s right to counsel in their child welfare proceedings, as well as drafting motions designed to secure Extended Foster Care to prevent homelessness for youth aging out of foster care. Students in this clinic have helped undocumented youth from countries such as Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and El Salvador achieve legal permanency and residency status for youth within the country.

Unfortunately, situations like the character I played are all too common in our community. Unaccompanied youth from all walks of life end up on the streets because they are not aware of the legal options available to them. This clinic not only helps many youths achieve or maintain stability, but it also helps to prepare future lawyers in their work with vulnerable youth. A well-trained lawyer can make a huge difference for youth in the foster care system or youth experiencing homelessness. CAYAC is ensuring law students have real life experience that will prepare them to represent and respond to the needs of their clients in the future. If you are homeless, in foster care, or an unaccompanied youth in need of legal help, this clinic is a great resource. You can contact CAYAC by calling 206-543-3434.