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) will work to combat family separation and surveillance through the child welfare system (“the new Jane Crow”) by improving parent representation through policy advocacy and community education.

The child welfare system has become for Black women what the criminal legal system is for Black men—an invasive institution that monitors and punishes them for socio-economic factors beyond their control. In New York, nearly 18,000 children live with strangers in foster care. Most were removed due to circumstances that have more to do with poverty than bad parenting—like insecure housing, poor nutrition, or lack of childcare.

Racial disparities in the foster system are stark: Black children make up less than 15% of New York’s population but comprise nearly 57% of its foster youth. 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. These best practices must be urgently institutionalized to support families throughout the state. 

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Jenna will advocate for statewide policy reforms to provide parents with early and holistic representation in child welfare cases. She will also conduct community outreach and education to support parents with information and resources to more effectively navigate potential CPS interactions. Additionally, Jenna will work with health care providers to reduce the volume of CPS cases that originate as a result of unnecessary drug testing and reporting. 

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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Sponsor: The Florida Bar Foundation

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Sponsor: Stern-Hughes Family Fund, The Ottinger Family Foundation

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