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Advocacy for Low-Income Children with Disabilities in California 2018

Speaker(s): Alaina Moonves-Leb, Brian Blalock, Dafna Gozani, Jill Rowland, Mayra I. Lira, Sabrina Forte
Recorded on: Apr. 12, 2018
PLI Program #: 221577

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.

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.

Alaina holds a JD from New York University where she was president of the High School Law Institute, and advocated for families navigating the New York education and dependency systems. In 2011, she joined the Alliance as an Equal Justice Works Fellow to dismantle the school to prison pipeline for foster youth. In this role, she directly advocated for youth, worked within the schools and juvenile courts, and led the development of and trained on key policy efforts and legislation. At the conclusion of her fellowship, Alaina became a staff attorney, and continued this work. She is currently the Senior Staff Attorney, Statewide Education Rights. In her current role, she maintains a small number of direct advocacy cases, but focuses the majority of her time on foster youth education legislation, policy and implementation at the local and state level. Prior to law school, she taught special education for two years, earned an MA in teaching through the Teach for America Program, and was honored nationally as their special education teacher of the year.

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.

Mayra is the Supervising Staff Attorney for Public Counsel’s Education Rights Project. Her practice is primarily focused on representing low-income monolingual Spanish speaking families with children with disabilities in Los Angeles. She represents families in all stages of special education advocacy including attending IEPs, filing complaints and in due process. While at Public Counsel, Mayra has also worked with the Adoptions Project and representing families in advocacy efforts with the Regional Center. Prior to joining Public Counsel, Mayra worked at an immigration nonprofit representing individuals applying for immigration relief. Mayra graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) with a B.A. in Sociology and a Minor in Political Science. She obtained her J.D. from Loyola Law School.