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March 2014


Report on Improving Parent Feedback for NYC Child Welfare System

On March 1, 2013, the Feerick Center's Social Justice Clinic hosted a convening titled Developing Parent Feedback Models for the New York City Child Welfare System. The convening marked the first time a diverse array of stakeholders collaborated with the New York City Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) to discuss the creation of a parent feedback model to elicit actionable, qualitative and quantitative data that promises to positively influence ACS accountability measures. During the past two years, 18 Fordham Law School students have participated in the Social Justice Clinic on the Family Justice Project. During the 2013-2014 academic year, Mara Wishingrad '13 is supporting the work of the Project through a fellowship.

Following the convening, clinic members authored a report reflecting the day's discussions and conclusions. There was consensus among the Convening participants that creating a multi-stakeholder consultative process to explore and review the development of a parent feedback mechanism is an important next step.

Civil Gideon Conference Commemorates 50th Anniversary of Seminal Supreme Court Ruling

On November 1, 2013, the Feerick Center partnered with Fordham Law School’s Urban Law Center and the Fordham Urban Law Journal to sponsor an all-day conference entitled Until Civil Gideon: Expanding Access to Justice. Coinciding with the fiftieth anniversary of the Gideon v. Wainwright ruling, the conference convened leading scholars as well as national and local leaders in the access to justice movement. In particular, the conference explored emerging issues and innovations that can promote access to justice in civil proceedings in the absence of a right to counsel. Presenters posed a variety of essential questions, including how the legal system can be transformed to meet the challenges of access to justice and whether a form of civil Gideon is the only or the best way to achieve that goal. 

Panels throughout the day explored key issues, including the role of non-lawyers, unbundled legal services, the use of technology and self-help, and court-led initiatives to facilitate access to justice. New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman gave the luncheon keynote address. The conference provided a platform for thoughtful reflection and shared insights about how to continue to make strides on access to justice in the absence of civil Gideon—particularly during these challenging fiscal times.

The Center hopes that the conference could serve as a springboard for continued information sharing and dialogue among the practitioners, experts, and scholars who attended, many of whom have already expressed interest in continuing this conversation in an effort to capitalize on the momentum generated by Until Civil Gideon: Expanding Access to Justice. The conference co-sponsors circulated an online survey to the over 100 conference participants to explore potential next steps and will be sharing the results with access to justice leaders.

Veterans Advocacy Program

For a number of military service people, the ability to successfully transition back into civilian life hinges on the discharge status that they are granted upon end of service. Those who do not leave the military with honorable papers (between 10-20%)1 often cannot access a variety of veterans’ benefits and additionally find their employment and educational prospects marred by “bad paper.” Other-than-Honorable and Dishonorable discharges result from a broad range of misconduct, and many veterans find these discharges grossly affecting their post-service lives.

Many less-than-honorable discharges, advocates argue, result from undiagnosed or untreated posttraumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury, conditions which in many cases were brought on by the service itself. The result is that many veterans who need the most assistance in reentry are cut off from resources that could aid their transition. Such veterans’ benefits span from health care and disability compensation to home and educational loans and pensions. The lack of one or more of these benefits can seriously alter a veteran’s ability to readjust to civilian life and effectively address service-induced health concerns. Furthermore, a less-than-honorable discharge lasts as an enduring, governmentally marked social stigma that can both degrade personal dignity and become a serious obstacle for employment.

Given the far-ranging consequences of a veteran’s discharge status, a new legal niche is developing around discharge upgrade cases. Although the problem has existed for decades—those seeking benefits through upgrades include both Vietnam and Iraq veterans—discharge upgrades have remained a small if not nonexistent aspect of veterans’ support until recently.

The Feerick Center has been fortunate to be involved in this vanguard area of legal advocacy through its support of NYCLA’s Veterans Discharge Upgrade Pro Bono Pilot Program along with the New York County Lawyers’ Association and the Urban Justice Center.

This fall, the Program’s first round of thirteen pro bono attorneys took on their first discharge upgrade cases. The Feerick Center was tasked with finding mentors for the project and so canvassed legal practitioners from around the country to find individuals with deep experience in a small field.

1. According to the Urban Justice Center, this is an especially high-need area, as more than 20,000 men and women have exited the military services during the past four years with less than Honorable discharges that hamstring their access to benefits and may limit their efforts to be productive members of society.

New York Unaccompanied Immigrant Children Project

The Feerick Center’s New York Unaccompanied Immigrant Children Project aims to improve state and local policy and practice affecting unaccompanied immigrant children—those children under 18 without legal immigration status and who do not have a parent or legal guardian in the United States to provide care and custody.

In December 2013, the Feerick Center, with generous support and co-sponsorship from the New York County Lawyers’ Association, organized a conference titled Representing Immigrant Youth: Ethics and Other Emerging Topics in Special Immigrant Juvenile Practice. Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS)—an immigration benefit available to certain immigrant youth who have been abused, neglected, abandoned, or similarly mistreated by a parent—is a complex area of legal practice, requiring knowledge of both family and immigration law. Conference speakers and participants explored key issues, including cultural competency and trauma, courtroom advocacy techniques, and legal ethics in SIJS practice. The opening panel featured reflections from immigrant youth who had recently been through the process of seeking SIJS and emphasized the importance of youth empowerment in the attorney-client relationship.

This month, the UIC Project will issue a report to the New York State Office of Court Administration on the challenges faced by immigrant youth, their relatives, and their legal counsel in accessing family court in connection with SIJS petitions. While SIJS has the life-changing potential to provide permanent lawful status to immigrant youth, many eligible youth are unable to access this protection due to practical barriers in the system.

The Project’s Family Court Working Group conducted a survey with practitioners who represent youth in special immigrant juvenile cases to learn more about these challenges. The report, which presents findings and recommendations from the survey and group discussions, is the first of its kind to address this growing area of concern at the intersection of child welfare and immigration. The Project’s other working groups are dedicated to Fact Finding and Research, Access to Justice, and Model Statutes.

Four law student fellows, supported by the New York Women’s Bar Association Foundation, have been integral to this Project. We thank Chrissie Cahill ’13, Jennifer Puchalski ’14, Lauren Irby ’15, and Sofia Linarte ’15.