The James B. Moran Center for Youth Advocacy’s School-Based Civil Legal Clinic (Clinic) supports families with children attending Evanston/Skokie District 65 by providing legal assistance and advice on non-criminal matters. Issues might include homelessness or eviction, guardianship and adoption, obtaining a medical Power of Attorney or filing for bankruptcy. The attorney who directs this resource is Megan Clung, and she is eager to let the Evanston community know about the Clinic and its work.
Ms. McClung started with the Moran Center in February 2019. In addition to her work at the Clinic, where she represents clients and oversees pro bono assignments and legal trainings, she is an adjunct professor in Trial Practice at Loyola University Chicago School of Law and has taught there for more than 15 years. Prior to accepting her position at the Moran Center, she had trained fellow attorneys in trial skills at the Chicago Bar Association’s College of Trial Advocacy, and also worked as Assistant Corporation Counsel for the City of Chicago Law Department. She graduated from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana and Northern Illinois University School of Law.
The School-Based Civil Legal Clinic started in April 2018 to meet the legal needs of families with school-aged children, in particular issues jeopardizing students’ health and safety. Social workers who work with attorneys and clients at the Moran Center pointed out that some straightforward civil legal assistance could address major issues of health and safety in students’ lives. The majority of the situations were not legally complex or groundbreaking for an attorney, but they were logistically and administratively challenging for a family member, and even more so if English is not the family’s primary language. Often the resources to address the issue already existed, but families didn’t know who to ask or how to access the assistance.
Ms. McClung shared examples of the issues her staff confronts daily. Suppose a mother requests and receives an order of protection to keep the father of her children away from her and where she resides, but the order of protection does not include her children, who may also be in danger. How can the order of protection be amended? How does a parent make sure his or her child receives possessions or property rightfully owned by the adult in the event of the adult’s death or deportation? How does a grandparent gain permanent or temporary legal guardianship for grandchildren? How does a teenager become emancipated from his or her parents, and when is that an appropriate option? How can a family compel a landlord to make necessary repairs to their unit? If the parents need to talk to an attorney about their immigration status, who can they talk to without fear of being reported to officials at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)?
Ms. McClung and her team address each of these issues through scheduled appointments at the Moran Center as well as regularly scheduled, free, walk-in Clinics. The next free Clinic is taking place on Tuesday, August 13 at the Joseph E. Hill Education Center (1500 McDaniel Ave, Evanston) from 3:00-5:30 p.m. Free child care is available. The Moran Center wants to eliminate obstacles, like getting time off from work or finding a babysitter, so that those who need assistance can receive it. Clinics are also held during the school year at Nichols and Chute Middle Schools.
The Clinic is staffed primarily by volunteer attorneys, many of whom are retired. If an attorney does not have a background in civil or family law, Ms. McClung will provide training. Law students and bilingual speakers are also needed as volunteers.
Case intakes at the Clinic usually take about 15-20 minutes. If it’s an issue the Clinic has seen before, there may already be a specific path toward resolution. If it is an issue that is beyond the scope of the Clinic, Ms. McClung will sit with the client, explain the situation, and provide other resources to contact. No one leaves without some succor. “I like to look at clients and see myself in them. It’s important to identify all their legal and social service needs in order to provide a holistic approach for their family’s needs,” says Ms. McClung. So far this year the School-Based Civil Legal Clinic team has counseled 37 families and referred four others to outside assistance. They hope to grow this practice through word of mouth, the Moran Center website and a regular, publicized schedule to District 65 families. She is adamant that one’s immigration status is not a barrier to receiving help.
Ms. McClung continued, “Our goal is to address families’ legal problems that either directly or indirectly impact a child’s ability to stay in or succeed in school.” By providing safeguards that will keep students in school, students can gain the skills they need to thrive as adults and become productive members of society.