Children & Youth Law Clinic Advocates in Tallahassee

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“Interns in the Clinic don’t just learn the law, they make the law.”  These words, often used by Children & Youth Law Clinic founder Bernard Perlmutter to describe the Clinic’s work, couldn’t be truer this semester.  Students recently traveled to Florida’s state capital to advocate before the legislature and the Florida Supreme Court.  

CYLC interns Chris Badiavas, Daniela Jaramillo, and Lindsey Gale accompanied Professor Perlmutter to Tallahassee for an oral argument in the Florida Supreme Court in an important case implicating the rights of immigrant children in Florida dependency courts.   The case, O.I.C.L. vs. Department of Children and Families, concerns a Guatemalan teenager who entered the U.S. in 2014 and was released by immigration officials to an uncle in Palm Beach County.  The boy filed a petition alleging that he had been abandoned by his parents in his home country and that he was a dependent child under Florida law because he has no parent or legal custodian to provide him supervision or care.  The trial court denied the petition and the Florida District Court of Appeal upheld that ruling.  The boy asked the Florida Supreme Court to review, citing conflicts with other District Courts of Appeal.  

The Clinic, together with the Law School's Health Rights and Immigration Clinics, filed an amicus brief on behalf of O.I.C.L. The students assisted in the mooting of the attorneys from the pro bono private law firms who represented the child and the amici in the oral arguments before the Court.  

"Working with fellow amici and counsel for petitioner in the OICL case was an invaluable experience,” said Badiavas, a 2L student. “It was a rare opportunity—as a law student—to get the chance the see the development of case from its inception to the state’s highest court for oral arguments. I am very grateful for the opportunity and the experience."      

Representative Daphne Campbell with Robert Lathan, Palermo Vitti and Barry University students

Another team of interns, Paula Romero and Palmerino Vitti, along with Clinical Professors Robert Latham and Kele Stewart, met with dozens of legislators and attended committee hearings during Children’s Week, a week dedicated to advocacy on children’s issues. The CYLC team provided support to Florida Youth Shine, a youth run, peer driven organization that empowers current and former foster youth aged 13 to 24 to become leaders and advocates within their communities.  

"Meeting with senators and their representatives allowed me to have a front-row seat to learn how legislative action is taken,” said 2L Palmerino Vitti. “At a time where Florida's foster care system is in need of reform, the motivation and effort displayed by the members of Florida Youth Shine was incredible and I am proud to be a part of their effort for change.”

CYLC helped to train youth on the legislative process and crafting their personal stories for advocacy, and then accompanied small teams of youth to meetings with individual legislators from both the House and Senate. Advocacy focused on two pieces of legislation: a bill that would prohibit restrictions imposed on former foster youth attending state universities and colleges, and a bill that would address placement stability for youth in foster care.

Former foster youth are already eligible for free tuition until the age of 28 at state universities and colleges, but many of these institutions have imposed barriers that are inconsistent with the law and make it difficult for former foster youth to complete higher education.  Additionally, many youth in care move from home to home and school to school, and do not receive nurturing care in group home settings. The bill proposes a number of measures to reduce multiple placements, promote placement in family-like settings and improve the quality of group care.