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Advocacy for Low-Income Children with Disabilities in California 2017


Speaker(s): Amy G. Chen, Brian Blalock, Dafna Gozani, Danielle Tenner, Jill Rowland, Lauren Giardina, Sabrina Forte
Recorded on: Apr. 13, 2017
PLI Program #: 182483

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.


Dafna Gozani is a staff attorney with Bay Area Legal Aid’s Youth Justice Project providing holistic civil legal services for youth ages 12-25. Dafna advocates for clients in the areas of public benefits, education, and foster care, housing, and focusing on youth with disabilities and involvement with the juvenile court system. Dafna has over a decade of experience working with system-involved youth as an educator, volunteer, and attorney. Before joining Bay Area Legal Aid, Dafna was Colorado Juvenile Defender Center (CDJC) Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow. Through that fellowship, Dafna piloted a direct representation project providing post-dispositional legal assistance to individuals with a barrier to success due to involvement in the juvenile justice system. Prior to her work at CJDC, Dafna was a Bridge to Practice Fellow for Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network in their Children's Program. Dafna has a Juris Doctorate from Loyola Law School at Los Angeles and a B.A. in Philosophy and Political Science from the University of Colorado at Boulder. During law school, Dafna was involved in numerous public interest projects, including co-chairing Loyola’s Public Interest Law Foundation, participating in Loyola’s Human Rights Clinic, and serving as a Senior Articles Editor for the Los Angeles Public Interest Law Journal. Before attending law school, Dafna taught at an alternative high school for system-involved youth inside the Boulder County Juvenile Justice Center for six years.


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.


Sabrina Forte is a staff attorney and project co-coordinator with Bay Area Legal Aid's Youth Justice Project, which provides civil legal assistance to youth who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, including youth who have been involved in the delinquency or foster care systems.  Sabrina advocates for youth across practices areas, including public benefits, foster care and legal permanency, housing, and education.  She trains and provides technical assistance to public defenders, probation officers, social workers, youth homeless shelters, schools, and many other agencies to help them identify civil legal needs in their client population.  A former elementary school teacher, Sabrina is a graduate of Stanford Law School and also holds a bachelor’s degree in history and literature from Harvard University and a master’s degree in education from Stanford University.  Prior to joining Bay Area Legal Aid, she clerked for Judge Richard Paez on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.


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.


Danielle is the Associate 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, Danielle provides direct representation to foster and probation youth in special and general education matters. She also promotes improved outcomes for system-involved youth through local policy and implementation advocacy.  Danielle received her JD from Harvard Law School, where she also represented low-income clients in housing and benefits cases for two years as a member of the student-run Harvard Legal Aid Bureau.  Before joining the Alliance, she practiced complex business litigation at O’Melveny & Myers LLP.  Prior to law school, Danielle taught middle school in the Los Angeles Unified School District, serving her first two years as a Teach For America corps member.  She earned an MA in Education from Loyola Marymount University and holds a BA in Psychology from UC Berkeley.


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.