Compassionate Representation for Children and Youth
“I was one of those kids who thought he didn’t have a future.”
This is what Samuel Carter, now 29, remembers thinking when he first entered the foster care system at age seven. Pinballing from one Oakland home to another, he started getting in trouble at school, caught the attention of law enforcement, and was heading straight for the foster-care-to-prison pipeline.
That’s when he met attorney Kristin Mateer, Executive Director and co-founder of the Oakland-based nonprofit East Bay Children’s Law Offices, or EBCLO.
“She saw something in me, some potential, at a moment when I didn’t see any way out of my situation,” says Carter, who is now a third-grade teacher at Lighthouse Community Charter High School in East Oakland, a school he once attended.
Carter is one of thousands of East Bay children and youth whose lives have been changed by working with EBCLO. Dedicated to “holistic, vigorous legal advocacy,” EBCLO was created when the Alameda County Public Defender’s Office closed its dependency practice. Mateer and two colleagues stepped in to create an organization that could more effectively — and compassionately — represent traumatized young people and help them navigate the complex dependency court system.
Part of this is math. “We went from a lawyer representing 200 kids, to representing closer to 100,” Mateer says. But most important, perhaps, is the consistency of relationships. Instead of youth and families interacting with multiple advocates over many years, they now work with one trusted lawyer until they find a safe home, or age out of the system at 21. EBCLO’s team also includes social workers who specialize in areas like child development and mental health as well as attorneys who specialize in education law, allowing them to push into schools and other institutions to support youth in ways that were previously impossible.
Mateer points to the organization’s motto — “Children should be seen and heard” — as another pillar of EBCLO’s success.
“Our clients — our kids — have always been the experts in terms of what they need, in particular the teens,” Mateer says. In order to more systematically study and respond to youth needs, EBCLO is in the process of creating a youth advisory board to learn directly from the youth what they need and offer resources. This data will also help EBCLO in its national push to give all youth a right to legal counsel.
“Youth and adults working together is the future, for young people and for the system,” says Mateer.
Samuel Carter couldn’t agree more. Apart from teaching school, and earning his master’s degree in education, he recently joined the Board of Directors at EBCLO, offering a voice of experience when decisions are made about the program’s future.
“My goal is to help kids understand, before it’s too late, that there are resources and help,” he says. “I want them to know that a place like EBCLO exists.”
Executive Director: Kristin Mateer
The Mission of East Bay Children’s Law Offices is to protect and defend the rights of children and youth through holistic, vigorous legal advocacy. EBCLO strives to provide a voice for children in and out of the courtroom and to promote positive outcomes for them.
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How did EBCLO help me? Where do I start?! It is so important to have a lawyer — it’s someone who can vouch for you and be another voice for you when you can’t talk. Sarah was that for me. And she listened. She was reliable — she was always there and making things happen. She constantly asked me if I wanted to come to court and was always willing to come see me at home or school or wherever. She made me feel comfortable. It was like having an extra auntie.
Helping Children To Be Seen and Heard
The 18 lawyers and six social workers of East Bay Children’s Law Offices (EBCLO) represent hundreds of children and youth who have been abused or neglected. State funding and federal matching dollars only cover a bare minimum of the nonprofit’s needs.
Donations from private donors can help lighten the burden on lawyers who manage over 100 cases a year and also enable the nonprofit to provide more holistic support for children whose needs go well beyond the four walls of the courtroom. This includes the Community-based Advocacy for Resources and Education (CARE) program, which provides intensive and individualized education and mental health support for children and youth.
In 2024, EBCLO will be celebrating its 15th anniversary and looks forward to celebrating its anniversary with the community!
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