“Marita Grant, a law student at Howard University and summer intern at the National Center for Youth Law in Oakland, says she’s always been interested in public interest law and juvenile welfare. That interest stems from her own experiences in the foster care system.
When she was 11, Grant fled Sierra Leone, where she was born, with a guardian during the country’s civil war. She found herself in the California foster care system after her guardian decided she didn’t want the responsibility anymore, Grant said.
‘It was a chaotic situation where everybody was fleeing the country,’ she recalled.
She was in the foster care system in Los Angeles County until she was 17 years old and said she lived a ‘typical foster youth in-care life.’
‘I went to six different high schools,’ said Grant, now 23.
She said she’d always been interested in the system because she felt that if she could help one person, she’d have done her duty. So when researching where to intern between her first and second year of law school, she looked up foster youth cases that had affected foster care policy within the past 10 to 15 years.
‘It seems like every other case was related to the National Center for Youth Law. They do big policy changes,’ Grant said.
The National Center for Youth Law has filed about 110 lawsuits in the past 30 years and has won all but three cases, according to Director John O’Toole.
‘Partially because we exercise a lot of judgment on the front end, we don’t want to spend resources and time on cases we can’t win,’ he said.
Those statistics and the center’s aim—to help improve low-income children’s lives—have made the center more popular than ever among law and graduate students seeking employment.
Applicants for the center’s summer law clerk program have increased over the past few years, with 175 applicants this year, O’Toole said.
Usually the center counts eight to nine students among its ranks, but this year the summer program increased to 12 students: nine law students, two undergraduate communications interns and the program’s first public policy intern.
During the 12-week program, the interns each have an intermediate supervisor who’s an attorney on staff and serves as a mentor. They attend seminars, one-on-one career counseling and scheduled sessions with judges in courtrooms so they can be exposed to real courtroom experiences.
The program saw a need to add a public policy intern because it was focusing on a few specific projects related to public policy and foster children, O’Toole said.
‘This is a person who can look at data and understand charts,’ he said.
Public policy intern Anna Johnson, who had been a social worker and teacher for six years, is looking at current policy and practices that exist around psychotropic medications nationwide that affect foster care children. She joined the program after her first year at UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy.
In the summer law clerk program, Grant hopes to ‘gain everything.’ So far, she has visited the juvenile justice center in Alameda County and worked with clients.
‘I never considered doing anything else.’ She said.”