Photo of Jenna Lauter

Jenna Lauter

  • Hosted by New York Civil Liberties Union
  • Sponsored by Advance, Ropes & Gray LLP
  • Service location New York, New York
  • Law school Columbia Law School
  • Issue area Racial Justice, Women's Rights
  • Fellowship class year 2021
  • Program Design-Your-Own Fellowship

The Project

Jenna (she/her/hers) works with her host organization, the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), to combat family separation and surveillance through the child welfare system.

In New York, most children in foster care were removed due to circumstances that have more to do with poverty than bad parenting–like insecure housing, poor nutrition, or lack of childcare. Black and brown parents face uphill battles in child protective services (CPS) cases, confronting bias, fewer resources, and greater odds of having a past conviction. They are further disadvantaged by the state’s failure to require parent representation or information about their rights during the CPS investigation phase. However, new models of early and holistic parent representation have been proven to help keep families safely together. Jenna works towards adoption of these best practices, alongside other reforms that will narrow the front door to the family regulation system.

Fellowship Highlights to Date

In the first year of the Fellowship, Jenna has:

  • Provided know your rights information and resources to approximately 500 parents in communities heavily targeted by the family regulation system
  • Met with legislators to educate them about family regulation issues and help them advance policy solutions, which this year passed out of committee for the first time, paving the way for full passage next year
  • Testified on behalf of the NYCLU at three public hearings, one held by the New York State Assembly Committee on Children and Families, and two held by committees of the New York City Council
  • Published two blog posts and supported impacted parents in drafting op-eds about the harms of the family regulation system
  • Helped represent two clients who were non-consensually drug tested and reported to the family regulation system when giving birth and referred additional intakes to partner organizations for further support

Next Steps

In the next year, Jenna plans to:

  • Expand know your rights community engagement to more underserved communities throughout the state, working with my sponsor organizations to enhance capacity
  • Continue to educate legislators about the harms of the family regulation system and encourage responsive policy changes
  • Generate additional media coverage to increase and shift public perceptions about the family regulation system as a form of change

Family separation through the child welfare system cuts to the heart of intersectional inequality; I believe combatting the system’s disproportionate harms is an integral part of the struggle for racial, gender, and economic justice.

Jenna Lauter /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

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