Strengthening Special Education Advocacy for Court-Involved Children


Emerging Leader Fellow: Katharine Vengraitis, 2016-2017

The Problem:

Children with special education needs are disproportionately court-involved and more likely to enter foster care or out-of-home placement.  Recent studies show that up to 85 percent of children in juvenile detention facilities have disabilities that make them eligible for special education services.  Despite these needs, court-involved children generally have no representation related to their educational issues and attorneys are often not cross-trained to collaborate in their representation.

The Approach:

Katharine is working with attorneys in the Defender Association’s Juvenile Unit along with experts at the Education Law Center and the Disability Rights Network to strengthen their ability to provide holistic representation and educational advocacy for dependent and delinquent clients with special education needs.  Specifically, Katharine is:

  • Building a knowledge base by meeting with Defender Association clients and representing a limited number of clients in special education proceedings.
  • Developing materials and providing cross-system training for education attorneys, child advocates, and delinquency attorneys to explain the intersection of dependency/delinquency cases and special education advocacy.
  • Conducting outreach to the education bar and creating protocols to develop a referral wheel of private attorneys to represent Defender clients with special education needs. 

Her project contributes to a sustainable system that will ensure that the Defender Association's special education clients have access to meaningful, timely, and well-trained representation.