Politics: Advocacy Lawyer Fights For Those In And Exiting Foster Care
Jean Strout always wanted to work with children. A Maine native, Strout became a communications fellow for the Community Partnership School through Philly Fellows after graduating from Swarthmore College. After returning to Philadelphia from Harvard Law School, she then became a Zubrow Fellow for the Juvenile Law Center.
Strout now is the Equal Justice Works Fellow, sponsored by Greenberg Traurig, LLP for the Support Center for Child Advocates. In 2016, Mayor Kenney authorized the center to provide legal representation for children in cases for the Department of Human Services (DHS).
You were one of the lawyers who worked on the brief for Montgomery v. Louisiana. Could you describe a little bit about the feeling of being a part of the team that determined that sentencing minors to life without parole unconstitutional?
When I left law school, I got one of my first dream jobs at Juvenile Law Center. Based on the timing that I was there, I was able to be on the team that was working on the Supreme Court case. There were a couple thousand people across the country who were going to get resentenced because of that decision.
It was really exciting for me, my first year out of law school, working on a Supreme Court case with all these extremely fancy lawyers. I got to work on the brief a lot, researching past cases and writing out our arguments … then I got to go on the day of the Supreme Court hearing and sit in the audience.
I heard all of our arguments and saw how the justices responded.
How did the inception of the “Representing Youth Transitioning to Adulthood” project that helps children who aged out of foster care come about?
It’s run by Juvenile Law Center social workers and they have a group of kids who used to be or are who still are in foster care. They advocate for issues that affect foster youth… my project was about trying to find a way to fill that gap and find youth help who aren’t necessarily in the child welfare system anymore. They still need some kind of assistance, especially because some of them don’t have adults in their lives that are helping take care of them.
Could you describe the work that you do with the Support Center for Child Advocates?
I work with kids that are around the ages of 18-23, who have aged out of the foster care system. They left foster care without being returned to their original family, being adopted, or found a permanent foster family to take care of them. I do a lot of different things with the youth, one thing is that if they’re interested in going back into care, it’s called resumption of jurisdiction. I also provide general legal services, so legal help on whatever issues they may have like they’re getting evicted or having a conflict with their landlord.
How well do you think that the city handles cases of child abuse, in your time as an advocate?
Most of my experiences are with kids where the child abuse is long in the past because it happened when they were younger. They were taken away from their family… I think that the city has a lot of great things like the Achieving Independence Center and policy changes that they’ve made recently. I think we have a lot more work to do in ensuring that the foster youth get the start they deserve and the treatment and support that any other youth would get.
What is something that you would say to someone who is interested in doing legal advocacy work?
I would definitely encourage people to go into public interest law, so that’s kind of defined loosely as law for the good of the people … I think that people should really consider choosing a career that’s meaningful to them and that makes a difference in the world … find a balance that you can live on and have a happy life on, but you’re also contributing to the community.
– Text and images by Jaya Montague and Zach Bourgeois.