Children's Advocacy Clinic

The Children's Advocacy Clinic (CAC) was established in 2006. It is an innovative interdisciplinary clinical program under the direction of founder and director Professor Lucy Johnston-Walsh, where law students and graduate social work students represent children in the legal system and work to address problems in the child welfare system. You’ll work together as a team, serving children who have been victimized as well as those involved in other civil court actions such as adoption, domestic violence, and custody matters. You’ll gain valuable hands-on training in some of the most intense, high-emotion situations a law practitioner will face. Clients are represented by both a law student and a graduate social work student who use a team approach to address children's needs. Social work students are supervised by clinic social worker Karen Galbraith. Additionally, you’ll have the chance to work with pediatric residents and child psychiatry fellows from Penn State Hershey—deepening your understanding of the child advocacy landscape.
 

Law Student Video Testimonials

Mari Boyle ’21
Former certified legal intern

Chantel Fleetwood ’19 
Former certified legal intern 

Tyler Ritchie ’20 
Former certified legal intern 

 

Clinic Requirements

Requirements to participate in the Children's Advocacy Clinic:

  • Complete three semesters of law school
  • Prerequisite preferred
    • Professional Responsibility
    • Evidence
  • Taking one of the following courses is strongly encouraged:
    • Juvenile Law or 
    • Child Welfare Law & Policy Seminar

 

Frequently Asked Questions

What kinds of projects does the Clinic handle?

Law students are engaged in the direct representation of children in various civil matters. Cases include adoption, dependency, custody, and abuse. Students are involved in real courtroom experiences and learn basic lawyering skills of oral argument, research, and writing. Graduate social work students research resources to assist children, help develop case goals, and communicate with caseworkers, case managers, and other professionals.

Local courts appoint the Clinic to represent children in one of two ways. Most commonly, a student serves as guardian ad litem, representing a child’s best interests to the court while expressing the child’s wishes. Occasionally, the court appoints the Clinic to be a child’s attorney to represent the child’s wishes and legal interests. Law students are responsible for all phases of the legal case, including interviewing clients, drafting pleadings and correspondence, negotiating with other parties, and representing clients at hearings or conferences.

Another component of the clinical program enables some students to focus their legal skills in the area of policy and legislation. The students research systemic problems on behalf of their clients in the child welfare system and then work with state and federal government officials to develop broad solutions.


How is the Clinic structured?

The Clinic provides an interdisciplinary setting, partnering law students with graduate-level social work students, pediatric residents from Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, and child psychiatry fellows from Penn State Children’s Hospital.

Law students selected for the Clinic will provide legal representation of children in the court system, as well as possibly working on broader policy projects on behalf of their child clients. Legal representation involves cases in various civil actions, including juvenile dependency, adoption, custody, and domestic violence matters. Students may also choose to do some policy work for broader systemic reform.


What kind of student commitment is expected in the Clinic?

The Clinic has limited enrollment. Students earn four credits per semester and may choose a single-semester or a two-semester commitment. Students are expected to average 12 to 16 hours per week in the Clinic and attend a two-hour class session each week. Students receive a grade for their participation in the Clinic each semester. Additionally, the Clinic offers limited opportunities for paid employment during semester breaks and the summer. In order to become a certified legal intern under Pennsylvania Supreme Court rules and represent clients in the courtroom, a student must complete approximately 43 credits by the time he or she applies for certified legal intern status. Students who are focused on policy and legislation need not be certified and could participate in the Clinic after completing two semesters of law school. Students work under the supervision of attorneys licensed in Pennsylvania.


What kinds of tasks do Clinic students perform?

As certified legal interns, students are responsible for all aspects of representing clients. Working under the direction and supervision of licensed attorneys, students learn basic lawyering skills like drafting legal documents, interviewing clients, investigating facts, completing legal research, communicating with opposing counsel and experts, and oral advocacy for court hearings. While the Clinic experience is focused on representing child clients, these basic skills are easily applicable to other areas of the law.

Law students who choose policy and legislative work typically research laws and policies of other states, draft legislation, and meet with legislators, youth, and other advocates. These skills translate into to other areas of policy advocacy.

Because all Clinic students work closely together and share their experiences during the weekly class session, students involved in courtroom representation are exposed to and also involved in policy development, while policy students often learn about courtroom representation from the legal advocates. All Clinic students also learn about collaboration through their partnership with medical residents and social workers.


What kinds of projects does the Clinic handle? 

Law students are engaged in the direct representation of children in various civil matters. Cases include adoption, dependency, custody, and abuse. Students are involved in real courtroom experiences and learn basic lawyering skills of oral argument, research, and writing. Graduate social work students research resources to assist children, help develop case goals, and communicate with caseworkers, case managers, and other professionals.

Local courts appoint the Clinic to represent children in one of two ways. Most commonly, a student serves as guardian ad litem, representing a child’s best interests to the court while expressing the child’s wishes. Occasionally, the court appoints the Clinic to be a child’s attorney to represent the child’s wishes and legal interests. Law students are responsible for all phases of the legal case, including interviewing clients, drafting pleadings and correspondence, negotiating with other parties, and representing clients at hearings or conferences.

Another component of the clinical program enables some students to focus their legal skills in the area of policy and legislation. The students research systemic problems on behalf of their clients in the child welfare system and then work with state and federal government officials to develop broad solutions.


How is the Clinic structured?

The Clinic provides an interdisciplinary setting, partnering law students with graduate-level social work students, pediatric residents from Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, and child psychiatry fellows from Penn State Children’s Hospital.

Law students selected for the Clinic will provide legal representation of children in the court system, as well as possibly working on broader policy projects on behalf of their child clients. Legal representation involves cases in various civil actions, including juvenile dependency, adoption, custody, and domestic violence matters. Students may also choose to do some policy work for broader systemic reform.


What kind of student commitment is expected in the Clinic?

The Clinic has limited enrollment. Students earn four credits per semester and may choose a single-semester or a two-semester commitment. Students are expected to average 12 to 16 hours per week in the Clinic and attend a two-hour class session each week. Students receive a grade for their participation in the Clinic each semester. Additionally, the Clinic offers limited opportunities for paid employment during semester breaks and the summer. In order to become a certified legal intern under Pennsylvania Supreme Court rules and represent clients in the courtroom, a student must complete approximately 43 credits by the time he or she applies for certified legal intern status. Students who are focused on policy and legislation need not be certified and could participate in the Clinic after completing two semesters of law school. Students work under the supervision of attorneys licensed in Pennsylvania.


What kinds of tasks do Clinic students perform?

As certified legal interns, students are responsible for all aspects of representing clients. Working under the direction and supervision of licensed attorneys, students learn basic lawyering skills like drafting legal documents, interviewing clients, investigating facts, completing legal research, communicating with opposing counsel and experts, and oral advocacy for court hearings. While the Clinic experience is focused on representing child clients, these basic skills are easily applicable to other areas of the law.

Law students who choose policy and legislative work typically research laws and policies of other states, draft legislation, and meet with legislators, youth, and other advocates. These skills translate into to other areas of policy advocacy.

Because all Clinic students work closely together and share their experiences during the weekly class session, students involved in courtroom representation are exposed to and also involved in policy development, while policy students often learn about courtroom representation from the legal advocates. All Clinic students also learn about collaboration through their partnership with medical residents and social workers.