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Children's Advocacy Institute


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The Children’s Advocacy Institute (CAI), founded at the nonprofit University of San Diego School of Law in 1989, is one of the nation's premiere academic, research, and advocacy organizations working to improve the lives of all children and youth, with special emphasis on reforming the child protection and foster care systems and improving outcomes for youth aging out of foster care.

In its academic component, CAI trains law students and attorneys to be effective child advocates throughout their legal careers. Its Child Advocacy Clinic gives USD Law students three distinct clinical opportunities to advocate on behalf of children and youth, and its Dependency Counsel Training Program provides comprehensive training to licensed attorneys engaged in or contemplating Dependency Court practice.

Conducted through its offices in San Diego, Sacramento, and Washington, D.C., CAI's research and advocacy component seeks to leverage change for children and youth through impact litigation, regulatory and legislative advocacy, and public education. Active primarily at the federal and state levels, CAI’s efforts are multi-faceted — comprehensively and successfully embracing all tools of public interest advocacy to improve the lives of children and youth. 

CAI's accomplishments and projects include the following:

  • first-in-the-nation litigation challenging a state's reimbursements to foster parents as being so low as to dissuade foster parents from caring for abused and neglected children.
  • landmark legislation opening up state and county child protective services practices to public scrutiny when children die from abuse or neglect -- legislation that has prompted sweeping administrative reforms in at least two California counties.
  • legislation requiring foster children who age out of the juvenile justice system to be provided the same program eligibility assistance as those who age out of the dependency system.
  • path-breaking litigation challenging the judiciary's policy of imposing caseloads on lawyers for abused and neglected children that are up to twice what the judiciary itself says is the practical maximum.
  • legislation prompting the nation's largest county to treat sexually exploited minors as victims rather than criminals.
  • creation of the innovative Transition Life Coach proposal designed to provide services, resources and mentoring to former foster youth as they make the difficult transition to adulthood and self-sufficiency.
  • administration of an annual program recognizing the state's news outlets for their coverage of children's issues.
  • litigation ensuring that Social Security payments benefitting foster children are disbursed based upon the child's best interests.
  • operation of a program of direct outreach to San Diego County's homeless youth, aiding them in obtaining benefits and services, and protecting their rights in court and before administrative agencies.
  • exhaustively documenting the failure of Proposition 63 -- the Mental health Services Act -- to provide any significant benefits to the population of transition age youth with the greatest mental health needs -- former foster children.
  • implementation of Kids' Plates, a personalized vehicle license plates program whose proceeds are earmarked for child abuse prevention, child injury prevention programs, and child care regulation;
  • legislation to require children under the age of 18 to wear a helmet when riding a bicycle;
  • research and evaluation of a pilot project substituting a single, interdisciplinary interview of a child abuse victim for repeated interrogations by multiple interviewers;
  • coordination and leadership of the Children’s Advocates Roundtable, a network of 300 statewide and regional child policy organizations representing over twenty issue disciplines;
  • creation of the Child Advocacy Clinic, a unique academic opportunity for law students to work on dependency or delinquency court cases under the supervision of an attorney, or on a variety of policy projects with a CAI attorney or other professional staff;
  • operation of the Information Clearinghouse on Children, which works to stimulate accurate and meaningful discussion of child-related topics by the media and policymakers.

View CAI Program Overview


CAI Video: Celebrating 25 Years of Accomplishments for Children


CAI Video: What We Do and Why We Do It


© 2018 CAI
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Children's Advocacy Institute
University of San Diego School of Law
5998 Alcalá Park, San Diego, CA 92110
Telephone: 619-260-4806 / Fax: 619-260-4753