Policy attorney Damon King first joined Children’s Law Center as a guardian ad litem, representing foster youth in neglect cases. His commitment to at-risk children grew out of the custody cases he had at the Legal Aid Bureau at Harvard Law School. While he enjoyed helping families gain “a new sense of normalcy after a series of traumatic events,” he realized he wanted to work directly with children.
Later, at San Francisco’s Youth Law Center, he focused on the special needs of foster youth with support from a prestigious Skadden fellowship – often described as the “legal Peace Corps” for graduating law students. Helping foster youth advocate for themselves became his passion. “Foster youth are a really vulnerable population,” Damon explained. “They are easily deprived of what we would consider normal childhood experiences.”
Today at Children’s Law Center, Damon continues to represent individual clients but also works as a policy attorney to translate his on-the-ground experience into recommendations for city-wide changes that better serve children’s needs. He sees it as the best of both worlds: one day, he’s helping a child find a safe and loving home, and the next he’s using that experience to improve citywide policies so that more children have a chance to grow up with permanent families.
Damon says his first Children’s Law Center case, which resulted in an 8-year-old girl being placed with her extended family, was a model for a smooth transition from instability to family permanence. “You want all permanency planning to go like that,” he said.
As they work with individual clients, Damon and other Children’s Law Center attorneys often notice patterns that emerge as their clients confront systemic factors that get in the way of their success. With his colleagues on the policy team, Damon has an opportunity to work towards citywide changes and make sure those obstacles don’t affect any more children.
“I think of clients often, whether reviewing a policy or preparing for a meeting with city leaders,” he said. “You want to design policy solutions that are actually going to work once they’re adopted.”
In addition to his day-to-day work at Children’s Law Center, Damon recently joined DC’s Citizens Review Panel, which provides independent oversight for the District’s Child and Family Services Agency. Damon will bring valuable perspective to the group from the many children he has represented who have been involved with the Agency.
Damon’s hope is that his work on the panel will help make sure more children can make a smooth transition to permanent homes – just like his first Children’s Law Center client.