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Equal Justice Foundation Report - Emma Heatherington
Advocates for Children of New York
I spent my 2L summer as an intern for Advocates for Children of New York (AFC). AFC is a non-profit organization devoted to representing low-income and foster children with education needs who attend New York City Public Schools. Working for AFC introduced me to a variety of legal skills that I will use in my future practice, regardless of what that practice may be. As an intern at AFC, I did more than just research and write and fetch coffee for the staff attorneys. I wrote complaints, prepared for trial, wrote opening and closing statements, wrote direct and cross-examination questions for hearing, interviewed clients and witnesses, and actively participated in mediation sessions as well as due process administrative hearings.
My work at AFC exposed me to the social, political, and legal plights of a disenfranchised group of people—children with disabilities. Without a strong voice to advocate for themselves, hundreds of children in the New York City school system attend inadequate and inappropriate programs, and fail to learn the knowledge and skills necessary to become functional members of society as adults. With attorneys such as those at AFC, child-clients gain access to a necessary and federally-guaranteed public services.
More importantly than participating in real-life legal work, working for AFC exposed me to the importance of working with clients and the effect that lawyers have on their individual lives. I advocated for children with autism, hemophilia, learning disabilities, and behavioral problems. The work I accomplished helped secured the rights of children who had been denied the free and appropriate public education guaranteed by law. I met often with the parents of my child-clients, learning about the specific effects my work had on their daily lives. One sincere “thank you” from a parent and I knew the serious nature of what I had set out to do for the summer.
Not only did I gain incredible practical legal and life experience from interning at AFC, but I am taking what I learned and turning my newly-gained skills into a career. With the knowledge I now have of education law and working with children in the foster care system, I am working with attorneys in Atlanta, Georgia, to create a system of education advocacy for children in the custody of the state due to abuse and neglect. If successful, the program could help countless children in foster care in Atlanta to access an appropriate education.
Finally, I must thank the Equal Justice Foundation at University of Georgia School of Law for enabling me to work at AFC, live in New York City for ten weeks over the summer, and to gain the experience I needed to pursue my future career as a Child Advocate. Without the EJF grant I would not have been able to afford to live in New York City for a summer, let alone work for a non-profit that could not pay interns. With less debt, I can leave law school able to pursue a career in the public interest, and to advocate for those who need a legal voice.