When University of Pennsylvania Law Review Public Interest Fellow Megan Rok began her fellowship year at the Support Center for Child Advocates, her goal was simple and ambitious: to identify and remedy the education needs of court-involved youth. The young people Megan set out to work with were often in desperate need of a skilled advocate. The majority were repeating a grade and/or failing their classes. Nearly half were identified special education students who were not receiving appropriate services. Likewise, almost half of the children Megan worked with who faced education issues also experienced significant behavioral and mental health issues, rising to the level of identified or suspected emotional disturbance. While some might look at these challenges as an indication that they should resize their goals, Megan used her fellowship as a skills-intensive course, engaging in a number of different types of casework in order to become a strong advocate as quickly as possible.
At Child Advocates, Megan was assigned as the attorney for incoming clients with serious and particularly complicated education needs. Under the supervision of experienced attorneys, she employed Child Advocates’ whole child representation model to advocate for these children, from the adjudicatory hearing through the life of the case, in every aspect of the child’s welfare, not just education needs.
Additionally, she assumed the regular responsibilities of staff attorneys, which include court coverage. About once a week, she was “on call” to provide legal representation for Child Advocates’ cases without a volunteer attorney available or assigned. Megan says that this kind of work requires quick thinking and analysis, and doing it regularly greatly strengthened her litigation skills. Moreover, covering cases exposed her to and broader array of dependency issues, which strengthened her understanding of relevant law and policies.
Finally, Megan served as a “crisis interventionist” and “education consultant,” available to help resolve education issues that arise among the 800+ active Child Advocates’ cases. Caseworkers and/or pro bono attorneys confronted with a complicated or significant education issue were directed to seek her assistance and she would provide all representation relating to the education matter. According to Megan, engaging in direct advocacy in Family Court and school proceedings on many cases involving a range of education issues was helpful in devising effective, practical and self-sustaining resources for Child Advocates, such as a resource bank for child advocates dealing with an education issue on a client’s behalf.
After her fellowship year ended, Megan became a permanent staff attorney at Support Center for Child Advocates, where she continues her work representing child victims of abuse and neglect in Family Court and school proceedings. She also directs Project YES! (The Project for Youth Educational Success), which seeks to provide children in foster care with informed and zealous advocates who can help them to maximize positive educational outcomes and ensure the enforcement of their legal rights. Whatever the project, Megan is dedicated to increase the prevalence and quality of education advocacy on behalf of children in the child welfare system in Philadelphia. Thanks to the experience she gained under the auspices of University of Pennsylvania Law Review Public Interest Fellowship, she has the tools and the platform to keep working toward her goal.