Family Defense Project

Family Defense Project Student Leaders“Greta, Ariane, and Justine are the co-founders of the Family Defense Project, a new SLP that fights racism and classism in the family court system. In partnership with the East Bay Family Defenders, we advocate for parents who are at risk of unjust family separation or have already been separated from their children. Through our experiences and the unique intersection of our work in the child welfare, domestic violence, and public defense fields, we all recognize how biased our existing institutions are against low-income individuals of color. The family court system, in particular, is highly discretionary, and often conflates poverty with failed parenting. We all believe in the provision of adequate social services on a systemic level instead of tearing apart loving families.

Reach out to us at familydefense@berkeley.edu if you want to learn more about civil rights work in family law, or if you have ideas to contribute to our new project. We can’t wait to work with our first cohort!”

 

Student Leaders Spotlight:

“I grew up in Ridgewood, NJ and have spent time living in the Bay Area, NYC, and London. I have been involved with sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) work for nearly a decade, most recently as a summer law clerk for DV LEAP, a domestic violence appellate nonprofit in DC. Through my work in this field, I learned about how the judicial system and family policing system keep women from leaving their abusers or reporting abuse due to fear of losing their children. This was my entry point into family defense work, which was further encouraged by taking Prof. Oyama’s Policing Families class during 1L Spring.

In addition to co-founding the Family Defense Project with Greta and Ariane, I was a member of the Reproductive Justice Project and the International Human Rights Project during my 1L year. With RJP, I was able to conduct confidential legal research and draft memoranda for partner organizations on reproduction and gender-based violence at both the local and national policy levels. With the International Human Rights Project, I had the opportunity to work on an academic article addressing consent in SGBV open-source investigations. Both projects gave me the ability to form community at Berkeley with law students as passionate about these issues as I am, and I am grateful to these projects for helping me hone my own interests within the law. I know the skills I’ve learned through these SLPs will be invaluable in leading the Family Defense Project

This year, I am hoping the Family Defense Project will become a valued resource to the communities we work with and will help current law students learn more about the racist and classist realities of the family policing system. I’m so grateful to the Pro Bono program for making this new SLP possible, and I can’t wait to welcome our first cohort!”

– Justine DeSilva, J.D ’24

 

Photo of Law Student, Greta Sloan, J.D '24

“My name is Greta, and I am from Colorado Springs, CO. I have been an advocate for survivors of abuse and neglect since I, myself, am a survivor of childhood trauma at a young age. Experiencing trauma at a young age is difficult, as it presents an increased likelihood of experiencing mental health, social/relational, and physical health challenges for the rest of one’s life. Access to support and stability is crucial in the aftermath of trauma because it can help mitigate many of these negative consequences. However, resource access and institutional response to trauma (both individual and collective) do not look the same across race and class. 

In my past work, I have advocated for young parents who have been survivors of abuse and violence who have faced separation from their children by the family court system when they have been struggling to make ends meet. I also have worked with youth in juvenile detention facilities who have experienced abuse and violence, who have been punished and further traumatized by incarceration in ways that have made their circumstances much more difficult. The list goes on, but the reality is that incarceration, removal of children from families, and court surveillance is a traumatizing and inappropriate response to people that have experienced (and continue to experience) violence on an individual and collective level.

I (along with my co-founders, Justine and Ariane) created the Family Defense Project at Berkeley Law (a SLP) to increase awareness of the trauma low-income parents of color are often forced to face by the family court system that meets struggle with a punitive and cruel response rather than actual support that would benefit so many. We aim to fight civil rights violations in family court as well as fiercely advocate for parents and children who are harmed by the family court system. 

I have appreciated the Berkeley Law Pro Bono Team’s support and willingness to allow our team to build out this new and important project. We can’t wait to get started with our first cohort of family defenders.”

– Greta Sloan, J.D ’24 

 

Photo of Law Student, Ariane Walter, J.D '24

My name is Ariane Walter. I grew up in France and moved to the United States a little over three years ago to pursue public interest law, which isn’t a possible career path in France. I aspire to work with young people involved in the child protective system and juvenile justice system, and participate in impact litigation efforts to improve outcomes and detention conditions for systems-involved children.

Prior to law school, I worked with children and families impacted by the child protective and criminal legal systems and witnessed how much racial and class bias permeates these systems–which has been my entry point into family defense work. I witnessed the cruel reality of the child-welfare-to-prison pipeline, the over-surveillance of older foster youth and low-income parents of color trying their best in a system that was never meant to support them, and the overall lack of meaningful second chances for systems-involved individuals. 

Pro bono opportunities at Berkeley Law have allowed me not only to intensely pursue my passion for children’s rights, but also to meet and work with inspiring students and faculty members similarly committed to racial and social justice. Our Family Defense Project (FDP) is a result of this vibrant public interest community. It is after hours discussing issues within the child protective system over coffee and lunch that Greta, Justine, and I decided to create FDP. We wanted to respond to a need in the community that the school had not yet addressed: providing holistic advocacy to low-income parents of color who are at risk of losing their children.

In addition to co-founding FDP, I am co-leading the Youth Advocacy Project (YAP) and BLASTlanta. As a member of the Youth Advocacy Project, I met with a youth incarcerated in the Bay area every week for 6 months to support him as he prepared for his release this summer (yay!). As a member of BLASTlanta, I supported lawyers representing unaccompanied minors in Georgia over Spring Break and interviewed a child to draft her asylum and SIJS applications. I’m also a court-appointed special advocate to a child in foster care, and I provide support to attorneys working on impact litigation to improve child welfare systems across the country. 

I am very grateful for the opportunity to do so much pro bono work at Berkeley Law and give back to the community that welcomed me with open arms. I can’t wait to continue this work and meet the first cohort of family defenders!”

– Ariane Walter, J.D ’24

 

Photos by Rachel DeLetto.