Lelabari Giwa-Ojuri

  • Hosted by Community Legal Services
  • Sponsored by Greenberg Traurig, LLP
  • Service location Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Law school University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School
  • Issue area Family Law
  • Fellowship class year 2020
  • Program Design Your Own Fellowship

The Project

Lelabari uses community lawyering tools to advocate for and mobilize the support systems of parents in the child welfare system who had their own families disrupted by the child welfare or juvenile justice systems in their youth.

Philadelphia’s child welfare system takes children from their families more often than any other major city. Most of Philadelphia’s children who enter foster care do so because of allegations of neglect rather than abuse. Too often poverty is conflated with inadequate caregiving, leading to children being separated from their parents through no fault of their own. Parents who stabilize and reunify their families usually do so with the support of their families and communities. Yet, parents who were themselves separated from their families as children are often isolated. Community lawyering and participatory defense use humanizing and trauma-informed narratives to center parents’ experience and voice, identify helpful resources, and provide decision-makers with the tools they need to justly avoid unnecessary child removal and ensure faster and safer reunification.

Fellowship Highlights to Date

In the past year, Lelabari has:

  • Represented 40 parents who were involved with the child welfare or juvenile justice systems as children
  • Provided brief services, advice, and/or referrals to an additional 10 individuals, including supporting families who are pre-petition and undergoing a Department of Human Services investigation
  • Provided four trainings for allies and other service providers on how to support parents and families involved in the child welfare system, as well as organizing monthly trainings with case managers in schools who work with pregnant and parenting students
  • Presented to social work and law students on the intersections between the juvenile justice system and the child welfare system

Next Steps

In the next year, Lelabari plans to:

  • Continue zealously representing parents from pre-petition until the case is discharged
  • Continue to conduct more community education and outreach
  • Collaborate with partners on parents’ group using a model co-created with parents and have initial Parent Organizing Coalition meeting

Media

Lelabari Giwa-Ojuri L’20 awarded prestigious 2020 Equal Justice Works Fellowship

Through partnering with parents and communities, I hope to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty, child welfare involvement, and family separation.

Lelabari Giwa /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow

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