A partnership with the Seattle School District beginning in 2011 will connect volunteer attorneys with youth who are at high risk of dropping out, aiming to keep them in school and out of the juvenile justice system.
Lawyers Furthering Education will recruit and train attorneys to provide pro bono legal representation to at-risk youth before they have serious truancy issues and once they have been sent to court for truancy. Early on, attorneys can work with the students and their families to resolve legal issues that contribute to the student's school attendance problems. The volunteer lawyers will become advocates and mentors, not just legal representatives.
"Students who are often truant from school are much more likely to drop out," says Leila Curtis, Truancy Project Coordinator. "By intervening early with advocates who are trained to spot issues that can cause a child to miss school - such as family financial troubles, evictions or a lack of access to health care or social services - we can resolve those issues so kids can become fully engaged in school, academically successful and on track for graduation."
With a grant from the Seattle School District, in turn funded by a U.S. Department of Education grant to reduce the district's dropout rate, the program will focus initially on homeless and immigrant youth, who have higher dropout rates than other groups of students in the district.
CCYJ has brought together a steering committee - comprised of representatives from schools, juvenile justice and community groups that work with at-risk youth - to determine the details of the program. We expect to begin recruiting attorneys over the summer and to start the program this fall.