The Law School Preparation Institute and the Court Appointed Special Advocates of El Paso (CASA of El Paso) collaborated to create a service-learning course to prepare law school-bound students for a career in advocacy by serving vulnerable children in need in our community, which launched in August of 2010. In this course, students are trained and certified as Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs) through CASA of El Paso and receive classroom instruction on law related to children’s rights from Professor Lisa J. Soto. Students are grouped in teams and assigned to children who have active cases in the El Paso County child welfare system due to abuse and/or neglect. Most of these children are in foster or kinship care. Students are required to participate in the program for a full calendar year and may register for three UTEP credits for the course. The service-learning component requires the students to advocate in court proceedings for the best interests of the children in cases assigned to them. To accomplish this objective, students engage in a variety of activities, including:
- Meeting with the children regularly from the time of appointment to a case to develop a trust relationship with the children and gain information to further their best interest;
- Meeting with the children's primary placement providers from the time of placement and maintaining regular communication thereafter;
- Consulting with mental health, medical, legal, educational, and other community systems to ascertain and advocate for children's best interest and work to assure that their needs are met;
- Providing written reports to the Court prior to each hearing and testifying in court regarding the children's best interest based on research and information gathered;
- Maintaining communication with parties and attorneys in assigned cases; and
- Advocating for permanency for the children, whether it be returning the children to their parents or the home of a family member, freeing the children for adoption, and/or finding other long-term, permanent, safe, stable placement for children.
The first program of its kind at the undergraduate level, it enriches the learning of the UTEP students by engendering compassion and understanding while sharpening their investigative, issue-spotting problem-solving, and all-around advocacy skills in preparation for a legal career.
For further information, contact Professor Lisa J. Soto at firstname.lastname@example.org or (915) 747-8581.