This past summer I was fortunate enough to intern for the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office Juvenile Division. There are so many wonderful things they do for their clients, but one of the most impressive things they offer is their Legal Education Advocacy Program. Lauren Brady Blalock is the Education Lawyer for the program, and has provided the following program description:
The San Francisco Public Defender’s Office Juvenile Division is the recipient of a federal Block II Grant, which was awarded to fund the establishment of the Legal Educational Advocacy Program (LEAP). The Program is staffed by an education attorney and a youth advocate, who work as a team to address the myriad of education issues facing youth involved in the juvenile justice system. The program serves over 100 individual clients each year, all of whom are clients of the Public Defender’s Office. The attorney and youth advocate address issues such as special education, truancy, school discipline, academic achievement, and school safety. By assisting students to receive much needed services in a safe and appropriate school setting, the LEAP team is able to address issues that would ordinarily lead to these students being remanded into custody, sent out a placement outside of their communities or sent to juvenile hall for violations of probation. Program evaluation also indicates that the clients themselves have a more positive experience both in school and in court after participation in LEAP.
Education is an often overlooked tool for juvenile defense attorneys. By implementing programs like San Francisco’s LEAP, attorneys are able to identify and address a child’s specific needs, and have alternative venues for resolving cases. Even outside of the Public Defender’s Office, defense attorneys should become familiar with available area schools and education programs that could better serve their clients. Making sure that a client’s education needs are properly met can often alleviate behavioral concerns. Also, once a child’s needs are identified and a proper plan is in place, children are able to achieve more and can develop a positive outlook towards school. Defending children requires knowledge of several areas of law. I encourage child advocates to make education a priority when representing their young clients.
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