Promoting Family Stability for Teenage Parents

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Elizabeth Vogel is a 2017 Equal Justice Works Fellow, sponsored by The Morrison & Foerster Foundation

Photo of Elizabeth Vogel

Fellow Elizabeth “Lizzy” Vogel, a former teacher at a low-income school in the Bronx, has always had a passion for helping others. Wanting to do more for her students, Lizzy chose to pursue a law degree to gain a different set of tools to empower others. “I knew I wanted to do public service work while I was in law school and wanted to do this work forever. It is the only thing I can imagine doing,” she says.

Hosted at the Neighborhood Legal Services Program (NLSP), Lizzy works on promoting family stability for teen parents in Washington, D.C., and reducing the number of children of teen parents in the foster care system. The idea for her project came about while she was working as a short-term postgraduate fellow at NLSP and a coworker recruited her to help represent a high-school-aged mother living in foster care. The young woman was desperately fighting hard for custody of her daughter to prevent the family’s continued involvement in the foster care system. Lizzy was struck by the need for legal aid aimed at teen parents and their custody rights.

Recent CDC data shows that only about 50 percent of teen mothers receive a high school diploma and that the children of teen parents are more likely to have lower school achievement, have more health problems, be incarcerated at some time during adolescence, and give birth as a teenager. “It’s important to make sure teen parents have safe and permanent housing, access to public benefits, and childcare for their children—especially if they are not part of a network where they are receiving support,” says Lizzy.

During her Fellowship, Lizzy has partnered with several community organizations to expand her outreach and advocacy efforts. She partnered with the Healthy Generations Program at the Children’s National Medical Center to receive referrals for family law services for teenage parents and their children. She created a medical-legal partnership with Break the Cycle and the Amara Legal Center, working with school-based health centers to serve pregnant and parenting teenagers.

Part of Lizzy’s also work includes providing representation for teen parents in custody legal proceedings. Having worked on more than thirty cases during her Fellowship so far, she has seen the transformative effect of legal services on a case. On one occasion, Lizzy was able to file the same paperwork as her client, and because of her legal knowledge, received positive outcomes despite the client’s self-prepared paperwork being previously denied. “I think foremost it’s about making parents feel supported and empowered in a legal process that often leaves them feeling very unsupported and not empowered,” she says.

Equal Justice Works is proud to support passionate lawyers like Lizzy, who help fulfill our nation’s promise of equal justice for all. To learn more about Elizabeth Vogel’s work, visit her profile.

I knew I wanted to do public service work while I was in law school and wanted to do this work forever. It is the only thing I can imagine doing.

Elizabeth Vogel /
Equal Justice Works Fellow

Learn more about becoming an Equal Justice Works Fellow