2023 Grants Challenge

Enhancing Educational Stability for Systems Impacted Youth

Working at the intersection of special education and systems impacted youth, Community Lawyers, Inc. will expand its existing Education Law program to improve positive life outcomes for systems impacted youth attending schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District, Compton Unified School District, and Los Angeles County detention centers. This expansion will support serving an increased number of youth in order to advocate for appropriate assessment, least restrictive learning environment, ideal school placement, and community continuity.


What is the primary issue area that your application will impact?

Support for Foster and Systems-Impacted Youth

In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

Central LA

East LA

South LA

West LA

South Bay

County of Los Angeles

City of Los Angeles

In what stage of innovation is this project, program, or initiative?

Expand existing project, program, or initiative

What is your understanding of the issue that you are seeking to address?

Systems impacted youth include youth in foster care, the juvenile delinquency system, students subject to exclusionary discipline, and youth at risk of restrictive placement (group homes, residential placements, detention, hospitalization). While systems impacted youth experience staggering disparities in educational outcomes, the likelihood for positive educational outcomes declines further for systems impacted youth that have special education needs. Negative outcomes are often the result of educational instability including frequently changing schools, inability to access appropriate assessments, placement in overly restrictive educational environments, and/or inappropriate school placement. Educational instability directly correlates to lower rates of graduation, negative mental health outcomes, and social and emotional developmental delays. As such, advocating for appropriate educational needs is critical to improving positive life outcomes for systems impacted youth.

Describe the project, program, or initiative this grant will support to address the issue.

This program is an expansion of Community Lawyer's Inc.'s (CLI) existing special education legal clinic to serve more clients utilizing dedicated staff and by seeking CLI's admission to the LA Superior Court Juvenile Division panel. Currently, CLI offers limited Special Education legal clinics led by pro bono attorneys and the organization's Executive Director who is a practicing children's rights attorney. These legal clinics provide counsel, advice, and representation in matters relating to the educational rights of children with disabilities and their caregivers. As a result of capacity limits, CLI staff are currently only serving 6 special education clients despite the organization's expertise in this area of law. Program expansion will allow CLI to increase the number of clients served more than threefold by hiring a specialized attorney, increasing existing staffing allocations to conduct community outreach to area non profit organizations serving systems impacted youth, and seek panel admission on the LA Superior Court for the newly hired attorney. Importantly, this program is both scalable and sustainable. As a result of the Federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), when a client prevails in their legal issue with a school district, the district is responsible for paying the plaintiff's attorney fees. This means that within one year of program expansion, CLI will be able to fully self-sustain the program.

Describe how Los Angeles County will be different if your work is successful.

This program increases the number of legal service resources for systems impacted youth with special education needs and supports improving educational and life outcomes for systems impacted youth. Program success means improved youth educational and life outcomes, which will in turn result in decreased monitoring by and participation within County systems. As such the program will also contribute to alleviation of strain on County entities including the Department of Children and Family Services and Probation Department. In short, additional resources for systems impacted youth will directly benefit not only clients participating in the program, but the County as a whole by decreasing the burden on an overworked and imperfect County social service and carceral system which often contributes to the deterioration of quality of life for systems impacted youth.

What evidence do you have that this project, program, or initiative is or will be successful, and how will you define and measure success?

CLI measures success by evaluating whether or not the organization is able to secure a successful remedy of the legal issue(s) clients experience. For this program's clients, this means ensuring they are receiving the most ideal educational placement, receiving appropriate assessments by school and systems personnel, are placed in the least restrictive educational environment, and/or that community continuity is maintained across home placements. For example, CLI recently achieved a settlement from a school district that agreed to rescind SARB (Student Attendance Review Board) proceedings of a child who was experiencing school phobia due to trauma and instead provide him with intensive mental health services to meaningfully, compassionately, and appropriately address the underlying issues impacting the child's school attendance.

Approximately how many people will be impacted by this project, program, or initiative?

Direct Impact: 20

Indirect Impact: 120