2012 Equal Justice Works Fellow, Zach Strassburger

Zach Strassburger

Name of Host Organization: KidsVoice
City, State: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Issue area: Disability Rights, Children/Youth
Sponsors: Anonymous

The Project

Zach used Pennsylvania’s new holistic court rules to advocate for foster youth with severe mental illness who are involved with diversion programs, residential treatment centers, and juvenile justice facilities.

The Inspiration

Need Addressed By Project: 
Youth with moderate to severe mental health issues account for more than half of foster youth in out-of-home care. Untreated mental illness leads to school failure, involvement in the criminal justice system, high rates of substance abuse, limited employment opportunities, and high rates of early death. Youth with psychiatric disabilities in the foster care and juvenile justice systems are frequently institutionalized, systematically traumatized, and over medicated. They are less likely than youth outside these systems to have access to consistent mental health care. Pennsylvania’s court rules that became effective in 2011 require attorneys representing youth in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems to address their health, education, and disability related needs. Dedicated legal representation will improve the education and life outcomes for mentally ill foster youth by securing academic credit for work completed in residential settings, reducing school suspensions and expulsions, and increasing continuity of mental health treatment.
Fellowship Highlights: 
During her Fellowship, Zach has:
• Broken barriers for students living in two different segregated residential settings that enabled them to attend public schools
• Won two appellate court appeals clarifying the role of educational and medical decision makers for youth in the foster care system
• Represented 45 youth clients in educational and medical settings, helping them access services and achieve stability
• Trained lawyers, social workers, and school administrators on health insurance, access to school transportation, and school discipline law
• Provided testimony in hundreds of court proceedings about clients’ access to education and health care
Where are they now?: 
Zach is an assistant professor of Child Advocacy Studies at Winona State University in Winona, Minnesota.

Biography

Hometown:

Wexford, Pennsylvania

Law school:

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