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Tara Grigg Garlinghouse L’14

For Tara, working in the public interest field “was pretty much the only option [she] ever considered,” largely due to her family’s legacy of being a foster home for children in the child welfare system for most of her life. Her laser-focus on child welfare as an undergraduate at Rice University guided her senior thesis, which in turn inspired her to pursue a J.D.  After analyzing her thesis research, she concluded that the best way to affect change in the field was by “advocat[ing] for children through policy and the law.”

Prior to coming to Penn, Tara was a member of the first class of City Hall Fellows for the City of Houston Municipal Courts. There, she implemented a complex organizational system so effective that she was hired to return for the year after her fellowship to ensure its independence and longevity once she was ready to move on.

During Tara’s time at Penn, she advocated for parents in the Custody and Support Assistance Clinic, served on the Public Interest Student Advisory Board, and worked  as an Auction Chair for the Equal Justice Foundation. She was also awarded the first ever Alan Lerner Fellowship in Child Welfare Policy where she experienced interdisciplinary practice with social workers at the Field Center for Children’s Policy, Practice, and Research. Tara combined her J.D. at Penn with an M.P.P. at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government to learn how to leverage data in the pursuit of improving the child welfare system. During her time in graduate school, Tara published three articles on the constitutional rights of parents and also authored a study on the quality of dependency hearings across the state of Texas.

After graduation, Tara clerked for the Honorable Micaela Alvarez, a federal trial court judge in the Southern District of Texas in McAllen, on the Texas-Mexico border. She is currently a Skadden Fellow in Houston at Disability Rights Texas where she represents children in foster care with disabilities in dependency hearings, as well as in special education matters and Medicaid Fair Hearings. She is also working to raise ADA issues for parents with disabilities who are involved with the child welfare system.