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Advocacy for Low-Income Children with Disabilities in California 2016


Speaker(s): Amy G. Chen, Brian Blalock, Eliza Patten, Jessica A. Breslin, Jill Rowland, Lauren Giardina, Linda Johnson, Marisa A. Lopez
Recorded on: Apr. 21, 2016
PLI Program #: 150581

Brian Blalock is the Law and Policy Director at Tipping Point Community, where he currently looks at systemic funding issues that create barriers to entitled services and works collaboratively with public system, provider, and advocate partners to foster workable solutions to complex problems related to poverty.

Prior to joining Tipping Point, Brian was the founder and director of the Youth Justice Project (YJP) at Bay Area Legal Aid providing civil legal services and direct representation to youth involved in the delinquency, dependency, and homelessness systems under the age of 25.  Brian has worked as a religious affairs consultant, a fight trainer, and a public school teacher in the south Bronx. He has graduate degrees from Columbia and Harvard and a law degree from Stanford Law School.


Jessica Breslin is a staff attorney at Bay Area Legal Aid, where she works as part of the Youth Justice Project (YJP), providing direct representation and systemic advocacy on issues related to youth who are under twenty-five years old.  Jessica currently provides civil legal services coordination and direct representation at the Alameda County Collaborative Court and runs a project which provides special education and SSI advocacy to disabled delinquency involved foster youth.  Jessica has a Bachelor's degree in Social Work from NYU and is a graduate of Georgetown University Law Center.


Lauren Giardina is currently an Associate Managing Attorney with Disability Rights California.  Ms. Giardina has been an attorney with Disability Rights California since 2007, first specializing in cases involving youth, particularly special education and regional center matters, and currently overseeing the statewide intake and referral unit.   Ms. Giardina has represented clients in administrative hearings, as well as State and Federal Court.  Prior to working at Disability Rights California, Ms. Giardina was an attorney with Kamoroff & Associates, a private special education law firm in Orange County that represented parents and students in special education cases.  Lauren received her Juris Doctorate from Syracuse University College of Law in 2005.


Linda Johnson is a Staff Attorney with San Diego Volunteer Lawyer Program, Inc. (SDVLP) where she is responsible for the Education Law Project.  Ms. Johnson provides direct representation to students who are dependents or whose parents are receiving voluntary services from the County of San Diego, Health and Human Services, who have unmet special education needs, difficulty with enrollment, or who are facing school discipline proceedings.


Marisa Lopez is a staff attorney at Bay Area Legal Aid in the Youth Justice Project, which provides direct civil legal services for youth under the age of twenty-five. She provides advocacy for youth in the areas of public benefits, education, and housing, focusing on youth with disabilities and involvement with the juvenile court system. Marisa received her Juris Doctor from the University of California, Berkeley School of Law (Boalt Hall) and her Bachelor of Science from Northwestern University.


Amy Chen is a senior staff attorney in NHeLP’s Los Angeles office, where she conducts research, advocacy, and education on reproductive health access and services at the state and national levels. Her California specific work includes insurance coverage for contraception and pregnancy, expanding access to family planning and abortion services, and opposing religious restrictions on reproductive health care. Her national work includes leading NHeLP’s efforts to address systemic barriers to comprehensive pregnancy care. She is currently working on a project exploring state and federal options for Medicaid coverage of doula care. Before joining NHeLP, Amy worked at Bay Area Legal Aid in Oakland, California for eight years, where she provided direct legal services to individuals and families across the San Francisco Bay Area, and advocated on a wide range of issues including health care reform, Medi-Cal, Covered California, and private health insurance.


Eliza has built her legal career around a commitment to working with children and parents involved in the child welfare system.  After graduating from law school at NYU in 2001, Eliza worked at Community Legal Aid Society, Inc. in Wilmington, Delaware, where she implemented a Skadden Fellowship project that focused on improving the delivery of child welfare services to children in foster care through representation of parents in dependency proceedings, community education and outreach to parents and service providers, and public policy work at the state level.   Eliza joined Legal Services for Children in 2007 and is currently the Dependency Project Director.  In addition to representing youth in San Francisco’s dependency courts, Eliza has served as the Director of the Young Women’s Empowerment Project at LSC, focused on improving gender-responsive client work, including the development of a peer support group.  Eliza led LSC in looking more systematically at the effects of trauma across all client populations, developing practice guidelines for trauma-informed lawyering for youth that have been nationally disseminated as part of the ABA’s Polyvictimization and Trauma Consortium.  Most recently, Eliza is leading a project to explore the role of counsel for nonminor dependents with significant mental illness or developmental delay that may affect decision-making and to develop recommendations for transition planning for foster youth with disabilities.


Jill is the Director of the Education Program at the Alliance for Children's Rights, a nonprofit legal services organization dedicated to ensuring that children have the safe, stable homes, healthcare, and education they need to thrive. In her role, Jill provides direct representation of foster youth in special and general education matters, as well as improving outcomes for system-involved youth through local and statewide policy creation and implementation. Jill is an expert in every area of education impacting foster youth, including early intervention, special education, general education, school discipline, and interrupting the school-to-prison pipeline. Jill’s vision has grown the Alliance’s Education Program in response to the needs of our clients: from pioneering legal representation for early intervention services to addressing the unique trauma-related education needs of foster and probation youth. Her collaborative approach led to the creation of the Foster Youth Education Toolkit and its Court Companion, the training of thousands of school district and foster/probation system personnel (including social workers, probation officers, attorneys, and judges), and improved foster youth policies now put into practice in multiple school districts. Jill is passionate about providing foster and probation youth with an equitable education, so they can succeed in college, work, and life. She earned her JD at UCLA School of Law, specializing in Critical Race Studies. She majored in Communication and Sociology at UC Santa Barbara. She has practiced special education law since 2004, initially at a private firm before joining the Alliance in 2006.