Complex issues often keep teens from educational success.
Teens may be dealing with abusive parents, homelessness, special education needs, or immigration issues. They may be parents and need financial assistance so they can finish high school, or be living in a shelter without transportation to school.
We established the Teen Legal Advocacy Clinic in 1998 on site at Hartford Public High School, making this one of six school-based legal services programs in the country at that time. In 2007, we opened a Clinic on site at Harding High School in Bridgeport.
Our Mobile Legal Office stops throughout the community to help youth resolve legal issues. We work with teens who are involved with other community agencies and with youth who live in shelters throughout the state.
We provide legal advice and representation to help teens solve crises that prevent educational success:
Individual cases expose systemic issues. Through administrative and legislative advocacy, we promote changes to state policies and practices to benefit the largest number of teens:
Legal Rights Training for Teens and Professionals
Training sessions for teens help youth understand their legal rights so they can advocate for themselves when issues arise. Professional trainings help attorneys, child advocates and agency or placement personnel who work with teens recognize legal issues and respond appropriately.
Training topics include statutory rape, legal rights of teens in foster care, legal rights of teens in group placements, teens’ access to state and federal benefits, the educational rights of homeless children and youth, and immigration laws affecting teens.
Publications and Resources
The Center publishes brochures on many subjects that have enormous impact on the lives of Connecticut’s youth. Topics include Adolescent Health Care, Benefits and Child Support, Detention, Emancipation, Immigration, Parenting Teens, Runaway and Homeless Youth, LGBT Rights, Education, Teen Dating Violence, Rights in DCF Care. Click for publications and information.
Baya, born in Nigeria, lost her mother when she was only six months old. She was cared for by her grandmother, but when she was eight her grandmother died and her father, whom she had never met, arranged to bring her to his home in the U.S. Within a short time, Baya’s father and stepmother were physically abusing her. Following custom, members of the Nigerian community intervened and assumed Baya’s care. Baya’s father turned over her documents and ceased all support and contact.
Baya always assumed she could not get legal status in this country and never sought assistance. She became an exceptional student, winning writing competitions, becoming valedictorian of her class, and receiving a full private scholarship to a prestigious university. Just before her 18th birthday, Baya mentioned her situation to someone in the school’s international student office, who referred her to the U.S. Commission on Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI). USCRI thought she might qualify for Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) status and referred Baya to the Center for Children’s Advocacy.
Baya clearly qualified for help from the Department of Children and Families, which is a prerequisite for SIJ status. She was abused and abandoned by her only living legal guardian and had never been legally adopted. Although Baya had a full college scholarship, she had no money for clothing, no housing outside the school year or for holidays, and was subject to constant risk of deportation to a country where she knew no one.
Because of the short time before her 18th birthday, the Center immediately filed a neglect petition in juvenile court and secured a hearing. Under Connecticut law, children can only be committed to DCF before they turn 18, but once committed can voluntarily remain in DCF care if they are in college. Because federal immigration law deems children minors until they turn 21, this leaves a three-year window for SIJ petitions.
In our conversations with DCF prior to the hearing, DCF opposed Baya’s commitment because she was close to her 18th birthday, had “not really been neglected,” and “was doing too well on her own” to need DCF help. None of these arguments had any basis in law.
The Center’s legal advocacy secured DCF support for Baya through college graduation. We helped her file for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status to become a Lawful Permanent Resident of the United States. Congratulations to Baya on all her successes.
Shantel was a mentally challenged 18 year old with little family or community support. She suffered from the debilitating effects of domestic violence. Her life was in crisis and she didn’t know how to navigate the state bureaucracy to access the services she needed to be secure and finish high school.
Shantel was moving from shelter to shelter. She needed our help to appeal a denial of Supplemental Security Income and our assistance to get support from the Department of Developmental Services. We advocated for her right to educational stability as a homeless student under the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.
Through the Center’s aggressive advocacy, Shantel was able to stay at the public high school she’d been attending before she became homeless and receive transportation to and from school while she moved from shelter to shelter. We secured her placement at an appropriate vocational educational program by filing for a hearing at the State Department of Education. And we helped her reverse the improper denial of disability-based assistance from the Social Security Administration.
With our help, Shantel completed her vocational training and was hired by a local food service provider. Her SSA benefits are helping her meet monthly expenses.
Stacey Violante Cote, Esq.
Director, Teen Legal Advocacy Project