Fighting for the legal rights of Connecticut’s most vulnerable children

 

Center for Children’s Advocacy is the largest children’s legal rights organization in New England.

 

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 that would:

  1. bring legal resources out of the law office and into the community, to sites easily accessible by and familiar to children.
  2. be a one-stop shop that would provide holistic legal services to meet all of a child’s legal needs, addressing a variety of legal issues including education, access to health care and child abuse.
  3. depend on very little state money, so attorneys could be zealous advocates for their child clients even in cases involving the state.
  4. have an interdisciplinary focus, partnering with medical and education professionals to bring expertise from those fields to children’s cases.

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. 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 advocates for children, and its systemic reforms benefit thousands of children beyond its individual legal representation.

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 25, with 12 attorneys in offices in Bridgeport, Hartford and New Haven.

 

Protecting and Defending Abused and Neglected Children

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.

 

Improving Child Health

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, health care, and mental health care, housing issues, inadequate income and benefits. 

 

Supporting Teens and Homeless Youth

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. 

 

Improving Educational Success 

We represent children and youth in Connecticut’s poorest communities, 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.

 

Reducing Involvement with the Juvenile Justice System

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 prevent truancy and avoid referral to the juvenile justice system.

 

Helping Immigrant Children

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.

 

Reducing Racial Disparities

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 collaboration 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, Hamden, Norwalk, and Waterbury. 

 

Promoting Youth Voice

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 strong advocates for themselves to realize success as they take their place in the community.

 

Generating System Reform

The Center’s 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 CCA 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.

 

Improving Knowledge and Skills of Attorneys, Child Welfare Professionals, Law Students, Parents and Youth

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, medical practitioners, social workers, teachers, parents and youth. 

Video about children represented by CCA

The Center for Children’s Advocacy, affiliated with UConn School of Law, is the largest children’s legal rights organization in New England.
CCA Executive Director Martha Stone teaches a one year course at UConn School of Law 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 for videos of CCA UConn Law student interns testifying before Connecticut legislative committees. 

 

 

Learn more about the Center’s Work

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