The Child Advocacy Clinic focuses on children in foster care who have just turned 18 and are legally required to leave their foster homes.
Students in the clinic assist those who have recently aged out of the foster care program in negotiating with the Department of Social Services; applying for Social Security Insurance, Medicaid, and housing assistance; and identifying other government programs for which they might be eligible, according to Assistant Clinical Professor Erik Pitchal. Students also help clients find and enroll in appropriate educational, vocational, or job-training programs. There are more than 700 such cases in Massachusetts every year.
“These children still have enormous needs, and students are very committed to helping them,” said Pitchal. “They learn quickly how important the work they’re doing is.”
The new Immigration Clinic also deals with child advocacy, but in a very different arena.
Assistant Clinical Professor Ragini Shah leads an Immigration Clinic focusing on unaccompanied minors—young children who come to the United States without their parents.
Students represent undocumented immigrant children before immigration court and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency. Students also may take on deportation defense before immigration court. Other cases concern applications for immigration benefits such as Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, victims of crime visas, or trafficking visas, as well as political asylum matters.
“Immigration is a big topic in the world, and it’s good for students to have the space to engage,” said Shah.
“Students come to law school because they want to practice law and help people, and these clinics are often their first opportunity to do it in a hands-on way,” says Pitchal. “They’re the lead attorneys, and they thrive on it.”