Academic Program

As part of the University of San Diego School of Law, CAI's academic program includes courses and clinical training of USD law students in child advocacy.

CAI's academic program consists of two parts. First, the substantive course Child Rights and Remedies, taught in the fall semester, is a survey course which covers a variety of issues of concern to child advocates. Students study principles in dependency and delinquency law, tort issues relevant to children, criminal law, current constitutional issues affecting children's rights, and more. Released in 2019, the Fourth Edition of the course text, Child Rights and Remedies by Robert C. Fellmeth and Jessica K. Heldman, provides a comprehensive examination of how law and policy affect the lives and futures of children.

Second, students who have completed or are taking Child Rights and Remedies are eligible to participate in the Child Advocacy Clinic, a unique program that gives law students experience in representing children and/or working on policy issues vital to children's interests. Child Advocacy Clinic offers three different clinical opportunities:

  1. Dependency Clinic. USD Law students are placed with attorneys from Children's Legal Services of San Diego,  where they assist attorneys in the representation of abused and neglected children in Dependency Court proceedings. Alternatively, student may also be placed with attorneys from Dependency Legal Services of San Diego, representing parents, or with the San Diego Office of County Counsel, representing the San Diego child welfare agency. Dependency Clinic students are exposed to a wide variety of experiences, such as interviewing clients and witnesses; presenting evidence during bench trials; preparing briefs and memoranda; participating in settlement conferences; conducting field work with investigators; and making court appearances as necessary and appropriate.
  2. Delinquency/At-Risk YouthClinic. Working under the supervision of attorneys and staff from the San Diego County Public Defender’s Juvenile Unit, interns advocate on behalf of delinquent youth in order to ensure the youth receive the appropriate educational, mental health, physical health, and other services they need while they are under the jurisdiction of the Juvenile Court. Interns review comprehensive case files of youth to identify areas of need and then advocate on the youth’s behalf with regard to issues such as school discipline, special education services, school placement, mental health assessments and services, and health care needs, in order to protect the youth’s rights with regard to those matters and to address underlying issues that might be contributing to the youth’s delinquency.
  3. Policy Clinic. USD Law students work with CAI professional staff on state and federal legislative or regulatory advocacy, impact litigation, research or public education projects. Past policy projects have included research, analysis, and advocacy on the following issues:
    • states' implementation of CAPTA's public disclosure requirement regarding cases of abuse or neglect resulting in a child's death or near death
    • the need to increase foster family home rates to ensure a better supply of well-qualified foster parents
    • the lack of school nurses and related health care professionals in California schools
    • CAI-sponsored foster care reform legislation
    • streamlining the appeals process in dependency court proceedings
    • requirements for offering reunification services to parents
    • children's rights in the educational setting
    • California's child care inspection requirements
    • children's health insurance, specifically eligibility and enrollment patterns
    • special education accountability and financing
    • domestic violence and its impact on children
    • a proposed parenting curriculum
    • environmental threats facing children
    • child labor
    • the integration of services for emotionally disturbed children
    • the unconstitutionality of a legislative proposal to authorize the public courtroom paddling of juvenile graffiti offenders
    • the unmet legal needs of children in the courts
    • the role of substance abuse in dependency court action

USD Law students have the unique opportunity to graduate with a Concentration in Child Rights, which affords them the opportunity to study and collaborate with renowned faculty, practitioners and policymakers who play leadership roles in legal and policy issues at local, state and national levels. 

For more information about CAI's academic program, email or call CAI at 619-260-4806.

For information about the USD School of Law, please visit its website or call 619-260-4528.