When thinking about my favorite experience this summer interning at Legal Aid Society NYC (LAS) a specific client stands out. I had one client that I worked with for many weeks throughout my internship. Between reading reports about her, hearing about her history from my supervisor and interacting with her in person, I was very attached. She had no mother growing up and her dad voluntarily placed her in foster case. First of all, those are two really awful things. When you are placed into foster care, you aren’t just automatically placed into a foster home. There is a whole process and they might not find a home for you. For hard to place foster kids there are some facilities in NY. These facilities are known to be run really poorly run and usually do not help those kids do well. This client was placed in one of those bad facilities. She got arrested for stealing sneakers. After working at LAS for a whole summer, I find myself disgusted at a nightmare being created for this girl over a pair of sneakers!
Anyway, the judge on the case is really mean and strict so that did not help. Also, this client tended to get really stressed in situations like court which made her act out. That also did not help. Her dad was on board to help her, but he didn’t have stable housing so going into the shelter system was the only option. Child protective services wanted her placed into a non-secure placement facility (like a group home) as the consequence for stealing. LAS staff agreed that our client would not do well in placement and there was no reason she should be kept from being with her dad since he was willing to take her. We had many conferences and court hearings week after week trying to beg everyone else to get on board with releasing her to her father while implementing therapeutic services. Nobody wanted to give her a chance! My supervisor and other LAS staff continued to fight and advocate.
LAS kept trying to push for her to be released behind the scenes (let me add she was being held in a detention facility this whole time). Time finally ran out. The judge was done with adjourning the case for things to be worked out. The court date came that we knew was going to end in a decision. A few days before the hearing, my supervisor had spent about four hours at a conference trying to figure out the situation. Sadly, I wasn’t in work the day of the court hearing. Even though I wasn’t there, the whole day I was so nervous. I knew I would be so upset if she didn’t get the chance she deserved out in the community. This was a prime example of the system wanting to lock kids away instead of giving them the help that they need. I knew the time of the hearing and I was waiting to hear the outcome.
When I got the text from my supervisor that our client was released to her dad it felt like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. I wasn’t even a real staff member on the case! I knew my supervisor was so incredibly happy because she’s the one who spent all the hours negotiating for this client to have a chance to succeed. This case was probably my favorite situation this summer because I saw close up how great the work is that LAS does. I saw for myself how my own help and advocacy could have the same great impact on clients in the future.