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Texas Wesleyan University School of Law in Fort Worth, Texas, has received a $156,069 grant from the United Way of Tarrant County to add children’s rights advocacy to the school’s law clinic services. The children’s rights section of the law clinic provides services to Tarrant County children who are at risk for neglect or abuse, says Charlotte Hughart, director of the clinic. Potential clients are pre-screened by social workers at Lena Pope Home, a United Way agency that offers family social services such as counseling, alternative education, foster care and will send those families who also have legal problems to the law school’s clinic. “If a family needs legal help that would benefit a child — if they are being evicted — they would be sent to us,” Hughart says. Another example of a potential clinic client would be a child’s relative who needs a custody order, power of attorney order, or guardianship order to obtain medical care or schooling for that child, she says. Technically, the adult is the client, but the legal advice is for the benefit of the child. “Some of our children clients from Lena Pope need SSI [Supplemental Security Income] benefits,” Hughart says. “Typically these are disability cases where the child has mental or physical impairments, or a combination of impairments, and if they are sufficiently disabled and meet the definition of disability then they are entitled to some benefits under SSI.” The one-year grant makes it possible for the clinic to add two supervising attorneys, one for 12 months and the other for six months, to its staff and to add eight supervised student volunteers for a total of 24 clinic volunteers, Hughart says. The grant also pays for two students to receive $3,500 fellowships for working 10 weeks full time this summer. Third-year law student Connie Pyatt-Dryden, who received one of the fellowships and who plans to practice family law and some criminal law when she graduates, says the fact that the fellowship was for children’s rights law especially appealed to her. “Children depend on others for their voice,” she says. “I’m excited about the opportunity to be that voice for them.” She recalls a case where she was able to obtain continued SSI benefits for a 14-year-old boy with chronic asthma. “That’s when you realize it’s not about making the A’s in the classes or having the theory down,” Pyatt-Dryden says. “It’s about representing real people with real problems.”

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