The History of the Center for Children’s Advocacy
The Center for Children’s Advocacy (CCA), founded in 1997, was conceived by attorney Martha Stone, a long-time civil rights attorney. Martha wanted to create a nonprofit law firm that specialized in children’s legal issues, and envisioned a children’s rights organization built on four principles:
CCA is not a legal services organization. Rather, it combines three advocacy strategies – individual legal representation, children’s legal rights training for youth, parents and professionals, and advocacy for system reforms. The training and systemic advocacy maximize the reach of CCA’s staff; CCA cannot represent all of the children in need, but its trainings increase the number of non-lawyers who can advocate for children, and its systemic reforms benefit thousands of children beyond its individual child clients.
Martha started the Center with $2,000, in a donated space over the boiler room at the University of Connecticut School of Law. CCA’s first project was a school-based legal clinic inside Hartford Public High School. Its second project was a collaboration with Connecticut Children’s Medical Center to create the second Medical Legal Partnership Project in the country.
CCA has grown from a budget of $2,000 to a budget of $2.5 million, and from a staff of one attorney to a staff of 23, with 12 attorneys in offices in Bridgeport, Hartford and New Haven.
Our attorneys work to provide protection and safety for every child we represent. Children in the care of the state’s child welfare system should be in a secure, family-like setting whenever possible, have access to consistent care, effective education, and quality health and mental health care.
Our attorneys partner with health care providers in low-income communities to improve children’s access to health care and reduce the social and environmental factors that adversely affect children’s health. Our on-site offices at hospitals and community health facilities address disability rights, access to education and health care, housing issues, inadequate income and beneﬁts.
Teens may be dealing with abusive parents, homelessness, special education needs, or immigration issues. They may need financial assistance so they can finish high school, or be living in a shelter without transportation to school. Our attorneys work with teens who need legal support and advocacy to stay in school and be safe and secure. Our Mobile Office travels the community to reach youth who need help to resolve legal issues.
We represent children and youth in Connecticut’s poorest cities, addressing factors that interfere with their ability to succeed in school. We meet with students at our on-site school and hospital legal clinics, at community after-school programs, youth shelters and treatment facilities. We travel through communities with our Mobile Legal Office. We address educational rights, guardianship, housing issues, domestic and dating violence, access to health care and mental health care, and more.
The Center prevents and diverts children from involvement in the juvenile justice system by helping with access to education, mental health and related services. Our collaboration with the Juvenile Probation and Public Defender’s Ofﬁces helps youth get special education services and mental health treatment. We work in urban public school systems to to prevent truancy and avoid referral to the juvenile justice system.
Growing numbers of immigrant children in Connecticut have very few advocates. Many have significant trauma related to arrival in the United States. They fled abuse and neglect and live in fear of return to life-threatening conditions. Many arrive here alone, without a parent or guardian. Our attorneys help at-risk children avoid deportation, and help traumatized children get the support they need to learn English and succeed in school.
Connecticut youth of color are subjected to policies and practices that result in educational disparities and juvenile justice involvement. Through legislative advocacy, administrative advocacy, litigation, and collaborations with communities and agencies, our attorneys identify and reform policies and practices that result in racial inequity. The Center for Children’s Advocacy and the National Center for Children’s Law and Policy co-chair Racial and Ethnic Disparities (RED) committees in Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven and Waterbury.
The Center’s Speak Up Project developed a curriculum that helps youth involved with Connecticut’s juvenile justice or child welfare systems learn self- advocacy skills and speak up to secure the services and supports that are critical to their safety and success. Youth in juvenile justice settings must be very strong advocates for themselves to realize success as they take their place in the community.
Our systemic advocacy improves the response of the education, juvenile justice, health and child welfare systems to the needs of poor children. Our work has improved conditions in juvenile detention, decreased the number of teens “pushed out” of school, and increased availability of treatment services for at-risk children. Class action lawsuits such as Sheff (educational equity), allow the Center to improve educational opportunities for thousands of children. Legislative advocacy inﬂuences state laws that reform systems, ensuring that reforms reﬂect the actual needs of vulnerable children.
The Center’s training program helps impact statewide legal representation of children beyond the capacity of our small staff. We provide training for child protection attorneys, doctors, social workers, teachers, parents and youth.
The Center for Children’s Advocacy, affiliated with UConn Law School, is the largest children’s legal rights organization in New England.
CCA Executive Director Martha Stone teaches a one year course at UConn Law School that includes formal instruction and on-the-job training on legal advocacy for low-income children and youth. More information about this class is available here. Student intern experiences include written and oral testimony on proposed state legislation. Click here for videos of CCA UConn Law student interns testifying before Connecticut legislative committees.