“I believe so strongly in this work because all children deserve people in their lives who see the best in them, and are willing to stand up for them even in their most challenging moments.”
Stephanie Klitsch, JD
Assistant Director of Individual Advocacy
Stephanie Klitsch has been a staff attorney at Council for Children’s Rights since 2012. Originally from upstate New York, she earned a B.S. from Cornell University in 2007, and her J.D. from Stanford Law School in 2012. Prior to law school, she taught 8th grade science with Teach for America in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. In 2015, she was named Outstanding Young Attorney of the Year by the National Association of Counsel for Children (“NACC”). When not advocating for children in foster care with special education needs, Stephanie relishes her time with her husband and two young sons.
In early March 2020, Council for Children’s Rights’ Individual Advocacy Team was gearing up for our next “New Volunteer Training” for the Special Education Advocacy for Kids (SpEAK) Volunteer Program. We were finalizing the training materials, contacting the planned attendees with last minute details, and polishing our presentations, excited about sharing the material and getting to know our new volunteers.
The SpEAK Volunteer Program
Our students are children in the custody of Mecklenburg County’s Department of Social Services (DSS) who receive, or are in need of, special education services. Of the students in foster care with special education needs, our students are among the most vulnerable. The SpEAK Volunteer Program only serves students who do not have anyone able, willing, or appropriate to make special education decisions for them. Our SpEAK Volunteers take on a crucial role that parents of students with special education needs normally assume – making decisions about educational services.
SpEAK Volunteers get to know their assigned student, as well as their DSS caseworker, Guardian ad Litem (GAL) volunteer, foster parent or placement provider, and other important individuals in the student’s life. They attend school meetings and court hearings on behalf of the student, ensuring the student’s educational needs are being met.
While this may seem overwhelming for those unfamiliar with foster care or special education, we have designed a program accessible to volunteers with no prior experience. Our team of attorneys recruit, train, and supervise volunteers so they can confidently advocate for their assigned student.
The Need Continues, Despite the COVID-19 Pandemic
While it has felt like many things around us have come to a halt, the needs of our students have not. Schools and families across the country are struggling with how to adequately serve students with disabilities during this time of remote learning. This challenge is magnified for our students in foster care who already face instability, but the SpEAK Volunteer Program is hard at work on their behalf. For example, our volunteers are: checking in on students; making sure students have access to critical technology, support, and supervision; communicating regularly with students’ teachers; and participating in IEP meetings. Our volunteers are strategizing about how to minimize the negative impact of the lost educational time on students’ academic progress. Importantly, they are also keeping a close eye on students’ mental health needs, as this time of uncertainty can be particularly triggering for students who have already had a life full of trauma.
The SpEAK Volunteer Program continues to receive new referrals for students in need. We need new volunteers to be able to serve these students and protect their educational rights.
Introducing Our New Virtual SpEAK Volunteer Program Training
We are excited to announce that we have created a virtual, on-demand version of our SpEAK Volunteer Program training. Instead of a full-day in-person training, we have broken the training down into 8 sections (around 30-60 minutes each) that new volunteers can view at their convenience and from the comfort of their home. We have built in a way for participants to ask questions and provide feedback as they move through the sections of the training, eliciting communication and connectedness between our new volunteers and our attorneys.
While we miss the energy and excitement that comes from being in the same room with volunteers, we know that the most important thing we can do right now is make sure the students in our community receive the educational services and support they need, especially during this challenging time.
Please help us spread the word about our new virtual training. If you or someone you know is interested in learning more about the SpEAK Volunteer Program, please email IAT@cfcrights.org or call me at 704-943-9622. I cannot wait to speak with you.