by Grace Yuh

Every semester, students at the Child Advocacy Clinic work with organizations serving children as a part of their clinical fieldwork. The Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs spoke with Olivia Barket J.D.’20 on her experience with her placement at the Juvenile Unit of the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office.

OCP: Why did you choose to join the Child Advocacy Clinic?

OB: It was never a matter of if I joined the Child Advocacy Clinic, but when. I have worked with foster youth since I was an undergraduate and a large part of the reason I applied to law school was to be an advocate for children.

OCP: What would you say was the most fulfilling part of your experience?

OB: The opportunity to view the juvenile justice system with a critical lens.  I appreciate being challenged by my peers and the Child Advocacy Clinic created a safe space to talk through the enormous challenges facing many children across the United States.

OCP: Was there anything surprising or unexpected?

OB: I’m not sure if it was totally surprising, but it was enlightening to begin to understand the vast complexity of juvenile cases. It is easy to have our own preconceived notions of how the system should be working, but it is challenging to realize that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to juvenile justice.  There is no one idea that encompasses “the best interest of the child”.  Attorneys are often forced to piecemeal solutions – from finding housing for a juvenile, to attending education planning meetings, finding mentoring programs for youth – activities commonly thought to be outside the legal system.

OCP: What is the most important skill you learned or worked on at the Child Advocacy Clinic ?

OB: How to use my voice – both in and out of the courtroom. I began to trust my judgment and gained confidence in presenting my ideas to my supervising attorney and ultimately, the judge.

OCP: Has there been a particularly memorable moment for you while at the Child Advocacy Clinic?  If so, did it have an impact on you, your clinical experience, or how you think about practicing law beyond law school?

OB: Yes – unfortunately, it was a particularly sad moment. I was in court one morning and a case was called involving a female in her early teens. There were a medley of issues at play in this case, but ultimately the juvenile was detained – not because the prosecutor or defense attorney wanted her held in custody, but because there was no place else for her to go. This outcome was absolutely devastating to me. It would be almost 7 weeks until an appropriate placement was found.

OCP: What inspires you to do this work?

OB: I was raised by a single mother who worked almost every moment of the day to support me. By all accounts, I was fortunate. I had my mom, and a community of neighbors, teachers, and friends who filled in when my mom couldn’t be present. By the time I was in high school, I recognized that this support system my mom and I had created was unusual. Many children in similar situations to mine growing up are in desperate need of this type of community. I want to help youth create the future they have never thought possible – the one of their dreams.

OCP: What is something you would like to share with future HLS students who are interested in joining the Child Advocacy Clinic?

OB: No matter the clinical experience you choose, your eyes will be opened to new possibilities and to injustices you weren’t aware of. Be open to changing your path. Explore what you don’t understand or haven’t experienced. Ask questions. The Child Advocacy Clinic is a great way to start exploring all of the avenues your legal career could take.