Monday, April 13, 2009

The Legal Aid Justice Center's JustChildren Program

The Legal Aid Justice Center is holding their "Java for Justice" series this week.

LAJC, whose Charlottesville office is located at the corner of Preston and Grady Avenues, describes their mission as follows:
The Legal Aid Justice Center provides legal representation for low-income individuals in Virginia. Our mission is to serve those in our communities who have the least access to legal resources. The Legal Aid Justice Center is committed to providing a full range of services to our clients, including services our federal and state governments choose not to fund.
LAJC's website is here.

During the lunchtime "Java for Justice" sessions (from noon until 1 PM, each day this week, free and open to the public), LAJC's staff talk about their work and the projects with which they are involved. Today's session focused on the efforts of the JustChildren program.

As articulated by Andy Block during today's "Java" session, JustChildren strives to (1) generally, improve Virginia's public education and juvenile justice systems and (2) specifically, provide representation and advocacy for individual children and families.

In terms of JustChildren's systematic efforts, Andy talked today about ensuring that policy-makers are aware of -- and are compelled to address -- the particular perspective and interests of children. Because children have not traditionally "had a seat at the table" in the policy-making process, it has been too easy for their perspectives to be ignored, while the interests of the various adult stakeholders receive more attention. Thus, for instance, staff member Angela Ciolfi has become a regular presence at the state Board of Education meetings and frequently raises questions and concerns -- from the perspective of what is best for children -- that previously went unmentioned or unanswered.

In a compelling example of the importance of JustChildren's work, the Virginia General Assembly this year passed legislation that, for the first time, prohibits school systems from suspending a child for the sole reason that he or she has been repeatedly absent from school. This law seems like a complete no-brainer -- and yet the JustChildren staff explained that, until they and others highlighted the foolishness of suspending students based on their having skipped too much school, there had been no movement within the legislature to address the issue.

It was inspiring to listen to the JustChildren staff today and I hope that the remaining Java for Justice sessions this week will be well-attended.