2022 Founders Fellowship
The 2022 recipient was Joseph Dweck, a law student at University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law.
Personal Essay on Summer Fellowship with the Mother’s Outreach Network.
When I first sought out to begin my summer fellowship with Mother’s Outreach Network (MON), I was unsure of what to expect. I had already had experience working with families and children, and sought to create a greater lasting impact in their lives through my work, but I had yet to have the opportunity to aid those families in a legal setting. During my experience with MON, I was not only able to learn what the practice of law can look like first hand, but immediately had the opportunity to make lasting and impactful changes in the lives of people I was committed to working with.
Mother’s Outreach Network is a racial justice and antipoverty organization that supports Black mothers in advancing Black family preservation, economic security, and racial justice by transforming government income and child welfare laws, policies, and practices from punitive to empowering. I was originally drawn to MON due to its pre-petition and family defense work. With a background in childcare for over 10 years, I had enrolled in law school to be able to further positively impact the lives of the children I work with. Through their work with Black families and mothers in the district, MON and my own missions aligned. MON seeks to achieve their mission in a number of ways through tax clinics, direct client representation, policy advocacy initiatives, petition drives, guaranteed income studies, and raising awareness about peoples rights related to the DC Child and Family Services Agency (DC CFSA).
My work during my time with MON was as multifaceted as their approach as an organization is. My long-term projects consisted of seeing a housing conditions case through from its inception until a formal complaint was filed in court. In addition to that, I also worked closely with Diane Redleaf and Let Grow, who partnered with MON, in an effort to aid their legal research and policy project on Neglect and Lack of Supervision laws throughout the country. I was specifically tasked with researching relevant Virginia case law in order to identify positive language we could use to show the Virginia General Assembly that current statutes need updating. The need for updates coming from the understating that in their current form certain statues have more adverse effects on the lives of the families who come up against them. The last of my long-term projects with MON, consisted of my assisting with their Get CTC Tax Clinic. The clinic’s main aim was to provide guidance and legal aid to those families who had not yet received their 2021 Child Tax Credit, stimulus checks, and other tax incentives they would qualify for. My time in the clinic may have been some of the most impactful and eye-opening work done while with MON. It not only allowed me to help breakdown barriers for families who would not have been able to acquire their deserved funds otherwise, but also showed me how much of a difference the work I was doing had made in their lives by helping create that access for them. Going into the summer, I certainly did not expect Policy and Tax work to be some of the most enjoyable aspects of my time with MON, but I find myself thankful for the experience to be able to work on those projects.
In addition to my long-term projects at MON, I also assisted with a number of other initiatives. These initiatives more so focused on work having to do with families who may have been impacted by DC CFSA and the DC Child Protection Register (DC CPR). On a monthly basis, MON would table at local community events, in an effort to raise awareness about the DC CPR. At these events, we would inform families that their names could potentially be on the register, even if reports made against them were deemed inconclusive and or a removal never occurred. In addition to informing them, we also took down peoples’ information so that we could check the DC CPR on their behalf. If needed, we would then begin the process of seeking a fair hearing of which they are entitled to, in order to have their name removed from the register. Related to our work informing people of the DC CPR, I also helped build out an FAQ sheet about DC CFSA. The FAQ sheet was to be utilized at future “know your rights” workshops, and disseminated among current families we worked with to make them aware of certain CFSA practices in the area.
All in all, my work with Mother’s Outreach Network was impactful, meaningful, and informative. Informative not just relating to the legal issues I learned about and dealt with over the summer, but also about my own interests and future in the law. Specifically, my work with Diane Redleaf in partnership with Let Grow, allowed me to better understand state statutes and how their wording impacts the lives of families in very real ways. It furthered my interest in policy and legislation and the way it affects the communities around us, and made me start to wonder what my legal career could look like if I worked to not only update laws already written, but to help write them myself. It is with this new-found passion for policy and my long-realized passion for positive youth development, that I now seek to combine the two. I hope to one day work for a state legislator, hopefully the DC Council, in an effort to create better legislation that can aid, guide, and support juveniles and their families. At the same time I would attempt to re-shape statutes already in affect so that they may better positively impact those lives as well, or at least reduce the negative impact imparted on people in some way. Finally, as a direct result of the Tax clinic I aided MON with this summer, I hope to further that interest in my work with either the Tax Policy or Direct Representation Tax Clinics offered for my clinic requirement next semester at The UDC David A. Clarke School of Law.