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The Children's Law Clinic is a community law office that provides free legal advice, advocacy, and legal representation to low-income children. The clinic is staffed by Duke Law students who bring their compassion, commitment, and energy to the task of advocating for at-risk children. Since its establishment in 2002, the Children's Law Clinic has represented hundreds of children from a wide region around Durham.
The Children's Law Clinic is one of the few programs in North Carolina with expertise in special education and school discipline law. "All North Carolina children with learning-related disabilities have a right to an appropriate public education," says Clinic Director and William B. McGuire Clinical Professor Jane Wettach. That right is violated if those disabilities are not properly addressed or if students are improperly barred from their classrooms and schools. The law students in the clinic advocate for children in the public schools when parents have been unable to obtain appropriate educational services for their children. In addition, the law students represent public school students facing suspension. "Public school students have the right to appeal the imposition of a long-term suspension," she says. "They have a much greater likelihood of prevailing if they have a strong advocate to help present their case."
The Children’s Law Clinic has an active role in the Medical-Legal Partnership for Families in Durham. Partnering with Legal Aid of North Carolina, Duke Primary Care for Children, and Lincoln Community Health Clinic, the Clinic provides legal help in a wide range of issues that affect the overall wellbeing of its clients. Doctors and other professionals refer their patients to the Clinic to provide holistic support for the child and his or her family. As a team, the medical provider and legal provider can help a disabled child obtain needed benefits or avoid losing them. "The law students in the clinic are encouraged to learn to use their legal skills to solve problems," Wettach says. "The goal in each case is to quickly resolve whatever problem the child is facing so that child's chances of being successful in life are increased."
Extensive resources to assist lawyers and parents advocating on behalf of students who have been suspended from school have been collected by the Children's Law Clinic. The School Discipline website is the culmination of a collaborative effort between the Clinic and Legal Aid's Advocates for Children's Services.
The Children's Law Clinic is an active partner in the Medical-Legal Partnership for Families in Durham. This partnership creates a collaboration between lawyers and doctors to enhance the overall health and well-being of area children.