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Children's Advocacy Institute


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Mark Your Calendar for the next Children's Advocates' Roundtable: Apr. 2, 2020—agenda coming soon

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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.

Conducted through offices in San Diego, Sacramento, and Washington, D.C., CAI's research and advocacy component seeks to leverage change for children and youth at the federal and state levels through impact litigation, regulatory and legislative advocacy, and public education.     

In its academic component, CAI trains law students and attorneys to be effective child advocates throughout their legal careers. CAI’s Dependency and Delinquency clinics allow law students to represent parties in juvenile court proceedings, under the guidance of experienced attorneys and CAI faculty, and its Policy Clinic allows law students to engage with CAI staff on ongoing policy advocacy projects.

CAI's current work includes:

  • Coordinating a major amicus brief in Ms. L v. ICE, involving major national child advocacy organizations and many international human rights entities to the Ninth Circuit, defending the preliminary injunction of Federal District Court Judge Dana Sabraw requiring the return of children who were illegally abducted by federal agencies back to their respective parents.
  • Related to the above, Freedom of Information Act requests to all six federal agencies involved in child abductions from parents at the border — and likely follow-up litigation to compel compliance.
  • Efforts to eliminate the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) and improve outcomes for CSEC victims.
  • Advocacy, including the promotion of model California statutes and rules to other states, to protect youth from abusive private for-profit colleges making false promises, not delivering useful education, generating ruinous student debt, and exhausting billions of dollars in public grants and loans without benefit.
  • An upcoming report, following up on previous editions, on the performance of each state in providing counsel for foster children in dependency court — with each state graded against a model (with subsequent editions every 4 to 6 years to continue that public information and enhance its long-term impact).
  • Related to the above, test litigation in Indiana — replicating the favorable Georgia federal district court opinion in Kenny A. — so a circuit level holding can be obtained that will apply nationally.   
  • Advocacy to protect the privacy interests of children and youth by developing a model federal statute and model state statutes protecting youth privacy rights in all forms of electronic media; conducting public education to inform parents, teens, and others about the dangers and risks of posting information and images online; and drafting reports detailing how states are using their authority to prevent privacy incursions.
  • Advocacy for the implementation 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, and other advocacy to improve outcomes for this population.
  • Ongoing advocacy to eliminate child abuse and neglect deaths and near deaths, including efforts to ensure states comply with the federally-mandated public disclosure of information and findings about such tragic incidents, to enable the identification and resolution of systemic failures in the child protection system.
  • Litigation and other advocacy (testimony, reports, federal legislation) attempting to ensure that Social Security payments due foster children as beneficiaries are not embezzled by states and counties — a practice that has been and remains common. 
  • Annual publication of a Children’s Legislative Report Card, grading members of the California Legislature on their votes on child-relevant bills.
  • Coordination and leadership of the Children’s Advocates Roundtable, a network of 300 statewide and regional child policy organizations representing over twenty issue disciplines.
  • A program of annual awards honoring news outlets and individual journalists for their coverage of children’s issues.

Key Accomplishments include:

  • California 2018 legislation to protect child privacy by prohibiting businesses from selling the personal information of a consumer under age 16, unless affirmatively authorized.
  • 2018 enactment of AB 2105 (Maienschein), to impose civil penalties for unlawful commercial acts involving child sex trafficking — at 20 times the level otherwise applicable, as well as complete disgorgement of all monies obtained and the application of pre-filing discovery that can accomplish the effective closure of any organized sex trafficking.
  • Release of a White Paper on federal child welfare financing, including recommendations to address prevention and ensure effective spending.
  • Release of a national report — Shame on U.S. — detailing the failure of the federal government to enforce child benefit floors against states in open violation of child welfare laws.
  • 2017 enactment of SB 1322 (Mitchell), to stop the prosecution of sex trafficked child victims as criminals.
  • First-in-the-nation litigation challenging a state's reimbursements to foster parents as violative of federal floors and securing a Ninth Circuit holding mandating a 30% increase (with required CPI adjustments going forward)  to add to the supply of families for foster care and adoption. 
  • Landmark legislation requiring disclosure of child deaths and near deaths from abuse/neglect, and litigation to compel effective implementing rules, as well as publication of studies evaluating the statutes and rules of all 50 states and grading each against a model.
  • Legislation requiring foster children who age out of the juvenile justice system to be eligible for many of the services and assistance provided to those who age out of the dependency system.
  • 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.
  • Litigation requiring California to include pre-school education (e.g., for 4-year-olds) within the Proposition 98 budget formula for education minimum funding — assuring the continuation of $400 million for such purposes (CTA v. Huff).
  • Reports documenting the failure of Proposition 63 (the Mental Health Services Act) to provide significant benefits to foster children — properly the highest priority population for public mental health services.
  • Operation of the Information Clearinghouse on Children to stimulate accurate and meaningful discussion of child-related topics by the media and policymakers.
  • Enactment and implementation of “Kids' Plates,”  personalized vehicle license plates with a heart, plus sign, hand symbol or star — with millions of dollars in annual proceeds earmarked for child abuse prevention, child injury prevention programs, and child care regulation.
  • Five separate California laws to protect children from injury, including requirements for playgrounds, swimming pools, bike helmets, and prevention of Kids-N-Cars overheating injury.
  • Research and a Report presenting the evidence for a single, interdisciplinary videotaped  interview of a child abuse victim by an expert instead of repeated interrogations by multiple interviewers – a Report that helped to stimulate such a technique as now common in major California counties. 

View CAI Program Overview


CAI Video: Celebrating 25 Years of Accomplishments for Children


CAI Video: What We Do and Why We Do It


© 2019 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