Student Saskia Valencia Named Skadden Fellow
Project to Focus on Improving Chances for Reentry for Court-Involved and At-Risk Youth
Third Year Student Saskia Valencia has been selected for the Skadden Fellowship Program, a prestigious two-year opportunity to pursue a self-created project alongside a public interest organization.
Valencia will work with Youth Represent, a small youth defense and advocacy organization in New York. She will collaborate with two mental health clinics in Washington Heights where she will provide legal services on-site for clients aged 18 to 24 who have an arrest record or had criminal involvement.
“My goal will be to provide legal services to help stabilize their housing, access to public benefits, and resolve educational issues and employment barriers,” said Valencia. “With this partnership, there will be room for greater mental health improvements as the clinicians will be able to focus exclusively on mental health needs.”
Valencia’s project stems from her own experience as a mental health therapist prior to law school. She worked with youth returning home from juvenile facilities in upstate New York, helping them to reintegrate into the community with their families. Valencia’s clients encountered numerous legal barriers in addition to mental health challenges.
"For example, certain convictions in New York can disqualify an individual from living in public housing or receiving subsidized housing," explained Valencia. "So, if a youth is convicted of one of these crimes and lives in one of these types of housing, the entire family is evicted or the youth has to be taken off the lease. This can be someone that is only 16 or 17 years old.”
Valencia spent a lot of time with her clients in court. On one memorable occasion the judge asked her to speak on behalf of her client. It was her first experience with oral advocacy in the courtroom and the moment when she knew she needed to go to law school.
“I’m going to be on my own for a lot of this project, but I feel like I’ve had some really great classes and practical training at AUWCL that have helped me to feel confident in my advocacy skills,” said Valencia. “I just finished a semester in the Criminal Justice Clinic. It’s good to be in the courtroom and learning how the system works.”
Valencia hopes that her Skadden Fellowship creates more partnerships with clinics around New York and makes it easier to reach those in need.