NHLA responds to the emerging needs of clients with new projects and efforts, often in collaboration with other organizations in the state.
Children's Dental Health: NHLA is monitoring our State's compliance with a federal class action consent decree entered in 2004 to improve the Medicaid dental program for children. Contact: Kay Drought 1-800-334-3135, extension 2503.
Youth Law Project: The Youth Law Project (YLP) works with children and teenagers who are facing long term suspensions and expulsions from school, delinquency or CHINS petitions, and youth at-risk of having such petitions filed against them. The YLP seeks to get these young people the educational, health, mental health, and other services necessary to stay in their homes and communities and out of the juvenile justice system. The type of work the YLP does includes representation at school disciplinary hearings and special education meetings and proceedings.
The YLP does not provide representation in delinquency or CHINS cases, but works closely with the public defenders and court-appointed counsel who do to determine how best to meet the youth’s needs.
To determine your eligibility for services, we encourage you to call the New Hampshire Legal Assistance local branch office nearest you, or visit www.nhlegalaid.org.
NHLA fights to improve state laws that foster discrimination against students who already face disadvantages.
A recent University of New Hampshire Carsey School of Public Policy study looked at statewide data from 2010 to 2014 and found that male students, students qualifying for free and reduced lunch, students of color, students with disabilities, and homeless students were much more likely than their peers to experience exclusionary discipline – discipline that sends kids out of school.
The study also found that certain types of schools – namely, urban schools in Hillsborough County – were much more likely to send kids home. In fact, students attending urban middle and high schools were roughly three times as likely to experience out-of-school suspensions compared with students at non-urban middle and high schools. Not surprisingly, those schools were more diverse and had high poverty rates.
“There is no doubt in our mind the problem is the discretion the schools have,” said Youth Law Project Director Michelle Wangerin. In her experience, a lack of guidance in the law results in harsher punishments for kids who are already disadvantaged, like CJ French.
In his first year of junior high, CJ missed 86 days of school. He just couldn’t stand to go. CJ has a learning disability, and he was often taunted for it – or worse - while the school’s administration basically looked the other way.
In frustration, CJ started acting out – sometimes violently. He would hit back when students would go after him, or sometimes just leave a classroom, go out into the hall, and punch a locker. His outbursts earned him a series of suspensions, and finally, last January, an expulsion.
After working with NHLA, CJ now attends the Longview School in Deerfield, a private school for kids with behavioral and emotional disabilities. There, with more individualized attention, CJ said he’s learning – and not getting into trouble.
“I’ve been a lot better,” he said. “Less kids in the classroom. I get more work done.”
Sabrina and Molly
Sabrina called the New Hampshire Legal Assistance Youth Law Project when she heard about it from her post-adoption case worker.
Her adopted daughter, Molly, was having trouble at school, and Sabrina felt overwhelmed trying to advocate for her.
Molly, 11, has a diagnosis of autism. She entered the foster care system when she was an infant, arriving with her new family four days before Christmas when she was just 8 months old.
“This is my kid. I’ll do whatever it takes,” Sabrina said. “She’s gotten the shaft since she was born. Her parents were teenagers. We think she was exposed to drugs and alcohol. We think she was abused, maybe shaken. She certainly wasn’t nurtured the way a baby should be. I’ll do whatever I can for her.”
Sabrina works full time to support the family, which includes her husband, who is disabled, and their adopted teenage daughter. She had to take dozens of hours off work each month to attend meetings at Molly’s school, adding financial worries to the emotional stress of Molly’s difficulties at school.
“I’m an educated person,” Sabrina said. “I’ve even worked in schools. But walking into those IEP meetings was utterly overwhelming. Things were happening in a language I couldn’t understand.”
“Our lawyer made sure I knew exactly what Molly is owed by the education system — a free and appropriate public education — and how I needed to write things, how to word it all to get us there. She was our voice when we didn’t know what to say,” she said.
“To have someone be that voice for us, it meant the world.”
Molly used to experience anxiety on Sunday nights about returning to school. Now, “she jumps up and down excited about school,” Sabrina said. “She is learning. She is happy to come home and tell me what she learned. I have a happy kid now. There are possibilities, now, for her future.”
Endowment for Health
N.H. Department of Children Youth & Families