BY ANGELA YINGLING
This fall marks the introduction of the Child Advocacy Program (CAP) at Harvard Law School, a truly interdisciplinary program dedicated to advancing children’s interests in the legal field and beyond. Headed by Professor Elizabeth Bartholet, Professor Martha Minow, and administrative director Jessica Budnitz, this program involves academic courses, policy workshops, and clinical placements in a variety of child welfare-related fields.
The three main components of the program are the Child Advocacy Law class, the Child Advocacy Policy Workshop, and new clinical placements designed for those interested in child advocacy.
The law class focuses on the substantive legal issues surrounding children’s rights and interests, including an examination of government interference in familial affairs (or lack thereof), parental rights, child abuse and neglect, foster care, adoption, and education. According to Professor Bartholet, this class contains a number of non-law students, which contributes to the diversity of ideas and viewpoints brought out by class discussion.
Professor Bartholet refers to the year-long Child Advocacy Policy Workshop as the “flipside of a clinical program.” Instead of HLS students taking their skills outside the law school, this part of the program brings a variety of experts, advocates, and policymakers into the classroom, where students and guests can engage in vigorous and important debates on topics related to child welfare. The invited guests speak to the students for the first hour of the workshop about their work in the field. The second half of the evening then becomes interactive – students can question the guest speakers, and all members of the workshop are able to participate in the discussion that follows.
The speaker list put together by the leaders of this program is both impressive and diverse. It includes judges, congressional aides, professors, non-profit administrators, and others, and this variety helps expose the students to the many ways in which they can become involved in child advocacy. From Henry Spence (the Commissioner of the Department of Social Services (DSS) in Massachusetts), to David Olds (a professor of Pediatrics, Psychiatry and Preventative Medicine at the University of Colorado Health Services Center), to Margaret Marshall (the Chief Judge of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts), each guest brings his or her own experiences and expertise to the classroom during each workshop session.
But CAP is not focused solely on academic pursuits. The clinical component contains placements in many different fields – some highly legalistic, and some less so. Currently, there are twenty-four students enrolled in the clinical portion of the program, and most expect to complete their fieldwork in the winter or spring terms. Students who are taking a clinical class in the spring are able to work close to Cambridge, at placements like DSS or Legal Services of Boston. The students will meet periodically throughout the semester to share stories from the field, a set-up that Bartholet hopes will allow them to learn from their own clinical work as well as to “live vicariously” through the work of the other twenty-three members of the class. For students pursing placements at more distant locales, the winter term offers them an opportunity to immerse themselves for a month at agencies, law firms, and legislative committees all across the country. These students will spend the spring semester pursuing a research/writing project on their winter placement, once again allowing the academic and practical experiences to intersect with one another.
According to Bartholet, this unique project promises to be a “forum for activists to engage with academics,” where a variety of dedicated people can develop and promote different strategies to advance social change for children. Although only in its first year, the interdisciplinary and ambitious CAP appears to have a promising future at Harvard Law School.