August 1, 2005
Law school internship program stresses rewards of child-focused law
BY Eric Rangus
Child advocacy is one of the most challenging areas of the law—as well as one of the lowest paying. However, the challenges of child-focused law often draw some of the most eager practitioners.
“The work can be difficult at times, but I am learning a great deal,” said Joshua McCabe, a 2004 political science graduate of Emory College. McCabe is one of this year’s interns for the School of Law’s Summer Child Advocacy Program. He is interning at the DeKalb County Child Advocacy Center, where his responsibilities include assisting in forensic interviews on children who have been abused and neglected by their parents. He has already appeared in court on behalf of a young client.
“The program is amazing,” said McCabe, a perfect example of the program’s goal of recruiting the best and brightest students. He spent 2004–05 in St. Andrews as a Bobby Jones scholar and is one of only a handful of 2005 interns without a law background (yet). “I haven’t even started law school yet and already I’m making a presentation in court.”
“The intent of the program is to bring the best and the brightest to this kind of work, to turn them on to how wonderful, fascinating and interesting it is, so that they will continue to work and improve the practice of children’s law and advocacy,” said program Director Beth Reimels, ’01L, an intern herself in 1999.
Part of the law school’s Barton Child Law & Policy Clinic, the Summer Child Advocacy Program lines up interns (this year there are 20, the number changes depending on funding) with juvenile courts, state agencies and child advocacy organizations around the state. Most are in the metro Atlanta area, but this year’s interns have been placed as far away as the Golden Isles Children’s Advocacy Center in Brunswick, Ga.
The program was originally geared toward Emory students exclusively (both those in the law school and Emory College), but now the summer program draws national interest. Seven of this year’s interns are from schools outside Georgia (and they come from top law schools including Harvard and the University of Virginia) and four more are from other state schools (the University of Georgia and Georgia State).
The advocacy program began in 1992, and when the Barton Clinic was established in 2000 (clinic director Karen Worthington was part of the original roster of summer advocacy program interns), the most logical place for it to function was under the clinic’s auspices.
“These children need advocates,” Reimels said. “Children don’t vote, have no voice and need somebody looking out for them to share with the various systems they interact with what these children need and want from their perspective.”
Some internships are with district attorneys’ offices prosecuting accused perpetrators of abuse and neglect. Others work in courts helping represent children in juvenile court proceedings.
“We have other interns who are in nonprofits that interact with these systems,” Reimels said. “And some are in policy organizations that are helping inform legislations around these kinds of issues.”
The internships run 10 weeks and include a training session where the interns learn tools of the trade, such as how to make a case from a child’s point of view. During the internship, the students submit biweekly field notes as well as a final report.
The field notes, which Reimels reviews and returns with comments, are the interns’ opportunities to ask questions as well as relate their frequently challenging experiences.
“You hear stories about how drug-addicted parents select their drug of choice over [the welfare] of their children,” Reimels said. “The interns also are working with professionals whose jobs are harried; they are overworked and underpaid—the interns are really needed.”
The interns also get together for program-wide events like panel discussions featuring child-law experts, tours of child-focused centers (such as the Fulton County Child Advocacy Center and the neonatal intensive care unit at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta).
Occasionally, they even find time to socialize, like at a July 25 gathering at the home of Mary Margaret Oliver, a visiting professor in the Barton Clinic. “Emory provides a public service to excellent professionals doing excellent work,” said Oliver, who in her spare time serves as a representative in the Georgia House and is former chair of the House Judiciary Committee. “The interns are learning a lot about themselves as well as about the system, which unfortunately can be very difficult in a lot of ways.”