Katherine Zubizarreta, JD '11, stands in the corner of a packed juvenile courtroom in intense negotiation with a senior administrator from the Miami Dade Public Schools. Zubizarreta is an attorney for the Department of Children & Families (DCF), the state agency responsible for bringing civil cases against parents and caregivers for child abuse and neglect. She understands that informal advocacy with the many stakeholders in the child welfare system is just as important as legal arguments in front of the Judge, a lesson that that was ingrained during her time as an intern in Miami Law's Children & Youth Law Clinic.
Zubizarreta is one of three graduates of the Children & Youth Law Clinic who are now with the Miami division of DCF. Nicole Ramos, JD '10, was an assistant public defender for three years, and then moved to DCF where she views her role as providing reinforcement to vulnerable children and services to parents who are struggling to provide for their care. Erika Kinzer, a 2009 graduate, started her legal career as a case manager for the Unified Family Courts before joining DCF.
"The Clinic helped prepare me for the 'real world' both in terms of how the court system worked and also in terms of the social issues involved in my line of work (poverty, substance abuse, domestic violence, etc.)," says Kinzer. Ramos credits the Clinic "tremendously because I was exposed to the substantive and procedural aspects of Chapter 39 which is the statute governing abuse and neglect proceedings. I was also able to gain litigation experience in administrative trials and court hearings, learn case management skills, and cultivate my ability to establish positive attorney client relationships."
Three other Clinic alumni play a different role in the child welfare system as attorneys for the Miami Guardian ad Litem Program, which gathers information and advises Judges on the best interests of children. Emerald Williams, JD '12 says, "I love being in court where I have the opportunity to be a voice for children and ensure their safety and well-being," and says the Clinic is where she quickly learned she had a passion for child advocacy. Jessica Yates, JD '11, believes she is a more effective advocate because of familiarity with the law, court house and how things work in practice. Jessica Allen, who graduated in 2005, is also with the Miami Guardian Ad Litem office.
The Children & Youth Law Clinic is a 6 credit course that can be taken for one semester or a full academic year. Students in the clinic represent children in foster care and former foster youth in juvenile court, health and disability, education and other civil and administrative proceedings. The Children & Youth Law Clinic is part of Miami Law's Clinical Program, which allows students to practice law under the supervision of licensed attorneys. Students interested in participating in a Clinic should apply here in the spring for the following year.