TeamChild is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.
Federal Tax ID# 91-1930194
Racism influences the criminal justice, social service, educational and civil/administrative court systems – all of which impact TeamChild’s clients. In 2016 following staff recommendations, TeamChild committed to sending all staff to Undoing Institutional Racism (UIR) training to develop individual and organizational awareness and skill sets around doing anti-racist work. A little over a year ago, staff began receiving UIR training from the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond. New staff continue to participate in the training as soon as possible after they join TeamChild. It is an essential training that I am thankful TeamChild is investing in. As part of it, the People’s Institute leads the group in a power analysis, a practice which examines the distribution of power between communities, institutions, and organizations in order to answer the question: “why are people poor?” This is an essential model in order to effectively work with communities as they build their own power.
Since participating in this training, TeamChild staff have been thinking about how to conduct this analysis within communities and looking for opportunities to incorporate community or movement lawyering, where we would focus our legal skills and knowledge toward results that build power within communities. Much of this ongoing discussion has been under the tireless leadership of Community Engagement and Anti-Racism Director Reyna Rollolazo and Staff Attorney Damian Davis NoOneElse, and different offices are engaging in different ways.
In Spokane, I have been empowered to begin a project in which I am reaching out to various community groups to schedule relational meetings where I can listen to the concerns of the groups with regard to local schools. Because my understanding of community lawyering includes not only using our power to support community in various interactions with systems, but also to directly share our legal knowledge and skills, I am also offering these groups education rights trainings based on their interests and concerns. Through this, my goal is that youth, their parents, and their advocates can better understand their rights and what they can do to assert them in schools. I hope that our conversations in these trainings also lead both TeamChild and the community groups to understand better where and how power needs to be enhanced in order for a more equitable education system for the Spokane community.
In the beginning stage of this project, I led a special education training for two groups of parents interested in advocating for their children in local schools. We discussed basic evaluation procedures, due process rights, and effective individualized education program (IEP) writing strategies. The most common feedback I received from both 2-hour trainings is that we needed more time. It is clear that community members desire the knowledge and skills that we as TeamChild attorneys have amassed through our privilege to attend law school and learn from our colleagues. I believe that an essential element of building our communities’ power will be to share it as widely and openly as possible.
Since beginning this project, I have already felt myself falling into old habits of focusing on only the immediate needs of my clients. It is easy to do, as I’m used to reacting to crisis after crisis. To truly build community power and be a part of the systemic change our communities need to be healthy, however, we will have to commit time and resources toward building that community power through listening and through sharing our knowledge and skills.
My parents left me, when I was two, in the care of my grandparents in China so that they could begin a new life in the United States. After two years of working day jobs at the local factory and delivering late-night Chinese takeout, all while attending the local university, my parents finally saved enough to bring me to the States. The first night here, I cried and begged to go back to China—back to the familiarity of my grandparents, my preschool, and my community, and away from these two strangers who I could barely remember as my parents. My parents laughed. They explained that this country would allow me more opportunities to get an education. And thus, throughout my childhood, chasing those opportunities became my aim; my life revolved around education.
I brought that passion for education with me to Detroit, where after college, I taught eager and bright-eyed five-year-olds. At first, I repeated the mantras that I had been told: Work hard, and if things don’t fall your way, work harder. And if you work hard enough, you will eventually achieve success. The unspoken inverse of that, of course, is that if you don’t succeed, then you are to blame—you haven’t worked hard enough.
But as I built relationships with my students and their families, and as I came to understand the obstacles they faced, I had to face my own ignorance. The truth for my students of color growing up in poverty is that the systems in place—including the education system I was pushing for them to work hard in—are not designed to help them succeed. Quite the opposite. These systems dangle the American dream in front of communities of color but set up processes and requirements that ignore many of our experiences and, in turn, disregard particular identities and traumas. Instead, to achieve that American dream, you must fit into a predetermined mold of success created by predominantly white gatekeepers who are divorced from the daily struggles of poverty and discrimination facing our communities. And if you’re unwilling to shed your identity, then regardless of how hard you work, you’ll stay crushed underneath the weight of the very systems that purport to help.
My aim as a lawyer is to dismantle this reality and to hold the systems, particularly the education system, accountable to the communities they serve. To pursue this work, I was fortunate enough to receive a Skadden fellowship to work at TeamChild. The Skadden Fellowship Foundation sponsors recent law school graduates to work for two years in public interest law. With fellows across the nation working on issues impacting the poor, ranging from housing and immigration to education and employment, the Skadden Fellowship Foundation is the largest public interest law firm in the country, with over 800 fellowships funded over the last 40 years.
My Skadden fellowship at TeamChild focuses on what educational options a student has when he or she is excluded from the traditional classroom. For example, if a student is suspended or expelled, what educational services are provided during that disciplinary period? Where do school districts send students that they do not believe can be served in traditional high schools? What is the oversight, if any, of those alternative school settings that are using nontraditional methods of teaching? And most importantly, after we have a clear picture of the answers to these questions, what do impacted communities feel should be done about our alternative education system?
Key to this analysis of alternative education is the inherent conflict between the flexibility we give to local school districts to determine how to educate youth and the need for overarching requirements that strive to hold those local entities accountable. There is no one-size-fits-all educational model, but unsupervised experimentation with educational strategies can end in failure, a burden that is often disproportionately borne by students of color. To complicate the issue, alternative education is frequently prescribed only when traditional methods of education fail, and as a result, unfettered discretion on who to send to alternative education could actualize explicit or implicit biases and lead to pushout of the very students who are already alienated by our education system.
My project is in its early stages. I am currently gathering data and information on the different forms of alternative education and how they are currently serving youth. I will be eager to share this information with the communities of students and families who are most impacted by alternative education.
If you have ideas about community needs, solutions, or potential collaboration on these issues, I’d love to hear from you! Please e-mail [email protected] for more information.
For 14 years, I have worked as a public defender in the Juvenile Division of Spokane County. I can receive cases that range anywhere from misdemeanor Disturbing School charges, to First Degree Murder charges. Ages can range from nine years old to eighteen years old depending on the circumstances. It is a job where I have seen a nine year old bring their teddy bear to court, a twelve year old who has been sexually trafficked, a fourteen year old charged with murder, and of course, seventeen-year-olds charged with Minor in Possession of Alcohol. It can be trying, but also rewarding.
The Washington State Supreme Court Standards for Indigent Defense require that a public defense attorney receive no more than 250 juvenile offender cases a year. The Supreme Court has also said that children are different from adult offenders, yet the criminal representation of youth has been slow to reflect this sentiment. As a traditional juvenile public defender, we get assigned a case, we investigate the case, we negotiate the case, and we ultimately resolve the case. However, as a holistic juvenile public defender, we strive to help the whole child, including addressing the circumstances that led up to the criminal charges and what the needs of the youth are. In order to effectively represent the “whole child” it is often necessary to work with social workers, mental health and drug and alcohol counselors as well as family members. Unfortunately, a shift to holistic representation has not been fully made yet. With 250 cases a year, public defenders continue to have to balance the traditional and holistic defender roles with the resources and time available.
In Spokane County, the juvenile public defenders do not have social workers to assist them as some other jurisdictions do and we are limited in the resources available to us.Fortunately, in Spokane County, there is TeamChild. TeamChild treats the whole child and holistically represents youth in the way that traditional juvenile public defenders cannot. In one specific situation, I represented a youth on a felony property offense whose living situation was, in my opinion, extremely unhealthy for him. He knew he had to find stable and safe housing. While I was working to resolve his criminal matter so that the felony would not hold him back from getting a job, TeamChild worked with him on virtually everything else. Together, they obtained his birth certificate so he could get a license. They were able to get his benefits paid directly to him and not to his family, where there was conflict. Also, they advocated strongly for the youth and often provided transportation, which helped him to find housing and become employed. Partly because of the work that TeamChild did with this young man, who became independent and employed, I was able to resolve this youth’s case in a way that wouldn’t affect his future. Thus, holistic representation. Additionally, the resolution of this youth’s case helped our community, because now this young man is employed and living in a safe residence. His basic needs are met. This significantly reduces the likelihood this young man will struggle in our community and re-enter the court system.
TeamChild advocates for the well-being and positive futures of our youth. But they don’t just do this on an individual basis; they also look at the bigger picture by advocating for legislative reform. TeamChild led in the advocacy for new legislation that would help divert kids out of the criminal justice system by allowing more types of cases to be handled in a diversion program. Now, in Washington State the vast majority of juvenile referrals may be sent to a diversion program. In that program youth have access to more community-based services and the ability to have their records sealed upon completion of that programming. This legislation also significantly reduces the use of incarceration for youth.
In Spokane County, we are in the beginning stages of sending more juvenile offenses to diversion instead of through the traditional court system. The Spokane County prosecutors’office must agree to send these cases to diversion even if allowed by the statute, so currently that is something that the public defenders in Spokane and the prosecutors’ office are trying to work their way though. However, we are seeing cases sent to diversion that would not have been sent before the new legislation. This is a significant win for our youth and the community. Kids make mistakes. However, these “mistakes” shouldn’t hold youth back for the rest of their lives. I love working with the kids, really listening to what they have to say and helping them to have a voice in our criminal system. It is absolutely the best part of the job. Most of the children that I work with everyday are in crisis and many times the criminal case that I have been assigned to, is only the beginning of what is going on in their lives. They often feel hopeless and unable to do things for themselves due to their age or circumstances. TeamChild empowers youth by helping them take charge of their own lives, whether it is in their education, the court system,or where they are living. These are children and they need our help. Fortunately, I see TeamChild help kids every day in my job as a public defender. The work that they do is invaluable to the youth and to the community and this is why I am now a proud board member of TeamChild. Please consider supporting TeamChild and their mission to remove legal barriers so that young people have the the opportunity to succeed.
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Much of what has dominated our news cycles in 2018 has been so deeply disturbing and difficult – daily heart-wrenching gun violence, polarizing political rhetoric, and the increase in implied and explicit disparagement and “othering” of our families, friends and neighbors. Staying hopeful can be a challenge, so more than ever, we’re committing ourselves to building, expanding and strengthening our relationships so that we, together, can continue working towards a more inclusive and welcoming community for our youth and families. There is good news in the midst of all the bad, and we’ve been reflecting on some big changes that lay the foundation for system transformation in the spaces and places where TeamChild works.
There’s good news that we don’t always see or hear about.
As lawyers and advocates for youth, we have a unique vantage point. We get to see the ways that laws, policies, and practices drive the results that we’re seeing. We’ve been especially keen on diving deeper into undoing the aspects of our juvenile court system that lead to poorer outcomes, fewer opportunities and lifelong negative stigma for youth of color, youth who are differently abled and youth who don’t have the privileges of wealth and access.
In March of 2015, we put out a concept paper called The Big Shift – intentionally written as a working draft and posed as an invitation to our public sector leaders to consider a set of bold, concrete actions for transforming the juvenile court system. It’s important to note that the Big Shift paper was just one of many calls for King County and our state to commit to eliminating the use of punishment and incarceration of youth and young adults. The Big Shift ideas would not have had the same impact without the work of a much larger movement calling for major change.
In the last year, in addition to all the important work being led by communities, we’ve seen big frame-changing moves by public institutions that lay the foundation for substantial changes in how we support youth in our state. While there’s much more work to be done, we wanted to call out the big shifts that are happening
A call to stay informed, be bold and exert influence in the circles around you. We are optimistic and hopeful that together, we can bring real change to systems. Each and everyone one of us can make a difference. The big shifts in approaches that have come out of the community’s call for change has opened doors for all of us to continue to not only be visionaries, pioneers, & catalysts but also to hold our public systems and each other accountable to fulfilling the promises being made to our youth, families and communities. We hope you’ll stay engaged and active with us!
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TeamChild Executive Director Anne Lee has been appointed to serve on the Oversight Board of the new Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) for Washington State.
Governor Jay Inslee signed a groundbreaking law in 2017 (House Bill 1661) that moves state funded children’s services, including those provided to youth in the juvenile rehabilitation system, and from the Department of Social and Health Services into the Department of Children, Youth and Families. According to Governor Inslee, this transition, “supports the philosophy in Washington State that all children get an equal opportunity to succeed and that families benefit when services and policies take a preventative approach to problems.”
The Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration will join the new department in July of 2019, so this next year is critical in planning and implementing new strategies to divert youth away from the system as well as better serve youth currently incarcerated and to maximize their success upon reentry to the community.
In her capacity on the Oversight Board, Annie Lee will serve as a Subject Matter Expert in Reducing Disparities in Child Outcomes by Income, Race and Ethnicity.
“We are exploring ways to bring youth and impacted community voice to these conversations and to keep the new department accountable to reform or dismantle existing structures that allow racial disparities and negative outcomes to persist,” says Lee.
The full Oversight Board includes these members:
– Justice Bobbe J. Bridge, Center for Children & Youth Justice
Juvenile Rehabilitation and Justice Subject Matter Expert
– Rep. Ruth Kagi, House of Representatives
Early Learning Subject Matter Expert
– Annie Lee, Team Child
Subject Matter Expert in Reducing Disparities in Child Outcomes by Income, Race and Ethnicity
– Ben de Haan, Partners for our Children
Child Welfare Subject Matter Expert
– Annie Blackledge, Mockingbird Society
Representative of an Organization that Represents the Best Interest of the Child
– Charles Loeffler, Children’s Administration
Child Welfare Caseworker Representative
– Jess Lewis, OSPI
Foster Parent Representative
– Judge Frank Cuthbertson, Pierce County Superior Court
Judicial Representative over Child Welfare Proceedings or Other Children’s Matters
– Kevin Fuhr, Moses Lake Police Chief
Law Enforcement Representative
– Lois Martin, Community Day Center for Children
Early Childhood Program Practitioner Representative
– Wendy Thomas, Kalispel Tribe
Eastern Washington Tribal Representative
– Loni Greninger, Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe
Western Washington Tribal Representative
– Shrounda Selivanoff, Office of Public Defense
Parent Stakeholder Group Representative
– Sydney Forrester, Governor’s Policy Office
Governor’s Office Representative (non-voting)
– Rep. Tana Senn, House Democratic Caucus Legislator
– Rep. Tom Dent, House Republican Caucus Legislator
– Sen. Jeannie Darneille, Senate Democratic Caucus Legislator
– Sen. Steve O’Ban, Senate Republican Caucus Legislator
Many of us are gathering this week with friends and family and taking the opportunity to reflect and give thanks. We here at TeamChild are so grateful for our community partners, and especially all of you who support our clients, our work and the broader movement for social justice.
We know you share our hopes for equity and our deep concern about the lack of meaningful opportunities for our children and youth. For over 20 years TeamChild has provided free legal help to countless numbers of youth struggling to navigate the challenges created by racially biased and economically unfair systems. Instead of homelessness, dropping out of school and incarceration, our clients are housed or back in school, with their families, and getting health care and other needed supports.
With your help, over the last year, we’ve expanded our legal services program to the youth facing homelessness, youth in foster care and youth who are incarcerated in our state’s juvenile prisons. We’ve also set our sights on cutting in half school exclusions and youth incarceration in Washington State. We’re building our policy and training programs and strengthening our community partnerships so that we can replace outdated and punitive strategies with restorative, community-driven strategies that promote positive youth development. We can’t do this work alone, and urge you to join our efforts.
On #GivingTuesday, November 28th, we give thanks to you and we ask that you get involved. Invest in TeamChild. Be part of creating a better future for our youth and our community.
My first school discipline case was over 15 years ago. When I got my first case as a TeamChild attorney representing a student who was expelled from school, I immediately reached out to my client’s high school principal. This is the person who issued the expulsion to begin with. In my youthful and optimistic state of mind, I felt certain that if I just connected with this principal, I could get him to understand the consequences the expulsion would have on my client and my client would be reconnected to education fast – an open and shut case.
I called up the principal and drove out to the rural high school where my client had been expelled. It was the only high school around in a part of Washington state where it takes a long time to get from one town to the next. I sat down across from the principal and pitched my client’s situation. I told him about how important education was to my client, how he could make amends for his behavior, and how, without this principal’s help, my client would have nowhere to go to complete his education. There were no alternative high schools or other options within miles of my client’s home. My client, at 14, had no way to transport himself to another location. He was dependent on the school bus just to get him to the high school that expelled him. Sitting out of school for a year or longer would only disconnect him from the likelihood of earning a diploma and gaining the necessary skills to enter our state’s workforce ready to contribute.
To my surprise, the principal’s response was this: “Wait, where DO expelled kids go to school?!” This principal, whose job was to expel students when he thought it was appropriate, had no idea what happened to them after they were removed from his school. At that moment, I realized that school discipline was a systemic problem much bigger than just the one client in front of me. It was a problem that disconnected kids from school, sometimes forever. Because at that time there were no end dates to expulsions and no educational entity with the responsibility of providing education to expelled students, TeamChild used to call expulsions the “death penalty” of discipline.
Luckily, school discipline rules have changed significantly since my first TeamChild school case. The newest changes to state law accomplish two really important things. First, all expulsions have to have an end date that is no longer than one academic term. This is an important step towards reducing the likelihood that an expelled student drops out of school all together because there is a clear date that the student can rely on to return to their school. But the second change is potentially even greater. Every suspended and expelled student must receive educational services during any period of exclusion. This means that the principal in my first case who expelled that client would have to have a plan for educating that student during the entire period of exclusion. That principal would no longer wonder what happened to expelled students – because expelled students are still enrolled in school – receiving educational services.
These new state laws have been in place for a few years. But the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) has just recently proposed regulations that will help guide school districts in the details of how to implement these important changes. These proposed regulations have been made public this fall and for the next month so that the public can comment on them and make suggestions to improve them or just to affirm the proposed changes. Anyone can comment on proposed regulations. If you want to read them for yourself and learn about the public comment process, visit the OSPI website.
There are several public hearings where comments can be made in person. TeamChild attorney Dan Ophardt attended the first public hearing in Spokane on October 17. Our main message to OSPI includes:
TeamChild is working with other advocacy organizations, community groups, parents and students to give feedback on these new and important regulations. We hope you will as well!
The deadline for making written comments about the discipline regulations is November 13, 2017. The remaining public hearings are scheduled for October 30 at 3 pm in Yakima, November 7 at 1 pm in Renton and November 13 at 1 pm in Olympia. The locations and details can be found here.
Minding my own business. I’d been a legal aid lawyer for about 5 years when I got the call from the legendary, Pat Arthur. Pat was the Director of the Institutions Project of Evergreen Legal Services – legendary because she went head to head with Washington’s prisons, championing and winning case after case to secure humane treatment, health care, and education for men, women and children incarcerated in our state. She and Simmie Baer, the fierce and passionate leader of the Juvenile Division of The Seattle King County Defender Association, had a radical idea. Tired of seeing hundreds of kids churning through juvenile court and detention every year, mostly for minor offenses, they wanted to give kids a team of lawyers and advocates who would fight for their rights to all the things that they needed to be successful and to ultimately stay out of juvenile court: education, a safe place to live, medical and mental health care for their overall well-being, and connection to family and community. I got the call because I had been exploring ways in which legal aid attorneys could advance the education rights of children. Pat and Simmie needed someone to provide education law training to Elizabeth Calvin, the new director of the new project. Two years later, I moved to Seattle to take a staff attorney job with TeamChild. It’s hard to believe that was 20 years ago. #powertothefounders
Not Rocket Science. The concept behind TeamChild is not rocket science, but in 1997, it was cutting edge. It intentionally broke through the service delivery silos of civil legal aid and public defense. We confronted the obstacles teenagers faced and took action to get to the root of why they were getting into trouble with the law. Our clients shared their strengths and hopes, and we stood by them during the toughest of times. As lawyers, we made sure that the education, health care, and other child serving systems provided the services they were created deliver. Shoring up community supports in a holistic way gave courts more options; and our clients stayed out of jail and got more chances to be diverted from juvenile court involvement altogether. #standingwithyouth
Does it work? Yes, doing what it takes for youth gets great results. TeamChild’s legal advocacy produces greater connections to education, housing, health care and other supports, and that results in fewer juvenile justice contacts. Our most recent evaluation found that juvenile court contacts are cut in half for youth that get TeamChild’s legal representation. Meeting basic needs is common sense; keeping kids out of the justice system makes economic sense – for every dollar spent on TeamChild, taxpayers save $2.
Scaling Our Impact. Pat, Simmie, and Elizabeth planted the seeds for TeamChild, and thanks to countless supporters and partnerships over the years, we have been able to provide critical legal advocacy for over 14,000 young people across the state. We are committed to expanding our capacity to meet the legal needs of youth who are at highest risk for entanglement in the juvenile and criminal justice system. At the same time, we recognize that working with youth one by one is not enough. Although school exclusions and juvenile justice numbers have declined dramatically, our state still has over 16,000 juvenile detention admissions a year and more than 40,000 suspensions and expulsions from school. And, system reform efforts to date have not been able to reduce the alarming disparities across race, disability and income. The number and rates of youth incarceration and exclusionary discipline are glaring indicators of our failure to support children. So, we have set our sights on dramatically cutting the number and rates of incarceration and school exclusions. We’re building our policy and training programs and strengthening our community partnerships in order to dismantle the pipelines that push youth into the justice system and replace outdated and punitive strategies. We can’t do this work alone, and urge you to join our efforts. We need partners of all sorts — passionate visionaries, worker bees, investors, and innovators. We look forward to hearing from you! #buildingamovement, #zeroincarceration, #youthfirst