Legal Aid Society

A Day In The Life

Reuniting Families in the Juvenile Rights Practice

For Martha Arellano, no victory is too small on behalf of her clients in the Juvenile Rights Practice (JRP) at The Legal Aid Society. As a forensic social worker, her goal is to advocate directly for the clients, which usually means reuniting them with their families. To be successful in the often complex legal system, it requires time and perseverance.

Martha is a negotiator, mediator, educator, and a researcher in her role as a forensic social worker. Martha collaborates with Legal Aid attorneys, paralegals, and investigators so that she can advocate for the best outcome for her clients in a system that often does not protect them. It’s important for Martha to zoom out and analyze the environment, relationships, systems, and policies that impact her clients’ lives and how that affects their court cases and vice versa.

Achieving the best possible outcomes often corresponds with how effectively she and the multiple parties involved in a case, such as Administration of Child Services (ACS) or the child’s parents’ counsel, can work together.

We shine brightest for our clients when we’re collaborating.

“I didn’t go to law school, but social workers are able to offer our own expertise in court to tell the best story for the client,” she says.

This expertise is especially crucial for the vulnerable population that JRP represents. Martha spends time educating her clients on how the court system functions, history on the judge presiding over the case, and setting expectations for outcomes. Her clients are at their lowest points during some of their meetings, and being able to connect clients with the proper support and resources make the wins even more rewarding.

She recalls working with a transgender client who had been abused by his parents. Throughout his time in foster care, Martha and her team have been at the forefront of getting her client’s name legally changed and continue to advocate for his access to gender affirming care to allow him to live authentically. The client knew he had a support system in Martha and could call on her even after the case involving his parents was resolved. This is something Martha provides for all her clients and is especially important when her clients don’t feel that same support at home.

Each step while navigating the justice system can impact the outcome. A parent’s commitment to a course of treatment or landing the right therapy program for a child for example, are pieces that work together to move a case from beginning to end. These milestones are important to counterbalance the bumps along the way, and help Martha get closer to achieving her goal for her client, which is almost always bringing families back together.

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