Interprofessional Practice and Advocacy for Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse

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    • 00:00


    • 00:09

      RACHAEL LEBLOND: Hi, Emma.Thank you so much for joining us.

    • 00:12

      EMMA HETHERINGTON: Thank you for having me.

    • 00:13

      RACHAEL LEBLOND: Could you walk usthrough first of your experience working with social workers.

    • 00:17

      EMMA HETHERINGTON: Sure.So I first began working with social workersafter I graduated from law school.I first worked at the Dekalb County Child AdvocacyCenter, which provided legal representation for childrenin foster care in Atlanta.In that office, we had two social workers on staffwho also served as investigators in the cases.And they would assist with not only investigatingcases but helping to advocate for clients

    • 00:39

      EMMA HETHERINGTON [continued]: whether they be in special education meetings, family teammeetings, citizen panel reviews, things like that.And then my next experience, as a lawyer,was working at the Georgia Law Center for the homeless.And again, in that office, we had social workers as well.The social workers were there again, not justto help out sort of on an investigative--in an investigative role with clients,

    • 01:00

      EMMA HETHERINGTON [continued]: but to help advocate for clients and provide holistic services.

    • 01:04

      RACHAEL LEBLOND: Walk us through whatthat intraprofessional practice is like,with your background in law and thenworking with social workers.

    • 01:11

      EMMA HETHERINGTON: Sure.So in a lot of ways, it can be very confusing,because the professions are very different.And then in other ways, it can be very harmonious.I think in more ways, more ways than that it is harmonious,because we are then providing that holistic representationthat I mentioned before, where we're not justlooking at a client from a legal perspective and as,

    • 01:31

      EMMA HETHERINGTON [continued]: what are your legal issues?OK, we fixed those.You're done.But what else does our client need outside of a courtroom?And that's something that lawyersaren't equipped to provide, but social workers are.So that interdisciplinary practice really--well, sometimes you don't speak the same language.And you don't know the same terminology,or you don't have the same education,or experiential background.

    • 01:52

      EMMA HETHERINGTON [continued]: You can really look at the client as a whole person.

    • 01:54

      RACHAEL LEBLOND: What about your advocacy work?I know that's been a big part of your practice.Can you walk us through that?

    • 02:01

      EMMA HETHERINGTON: Sure.So in terms of the advocacy that I've done in the past,it's has been, like I mentioned, before a mixture of twodifferent offices, one working in juvenile courtand advocating for children in foster care.And that advocacy in a lot of wayscrossover with social work.I wasn't just their lawyer in the courtroom,

    • 02:24

      EMMA HETHERINGTON [continued]: but I also would go outside of the courtroomto see what else does this child need.I would visit their schools.I would talk to their therapists,talk to any social workers working with them,speaking with the Department of Family and Children Services,or DFCS is what we call it in Georgia.And by doing that, I was able to advocate for that client,both in the courtroom and outside of the courtroom

    • 02:46

      EMMA HETHERINGTON [continued]: and then did the same thing the Georgia LawCenter for the Homeless, where someone might come in--for example, worked with a lot of survivorsof interpersonal or domestic violence.And in those cases, I might be helping them outwith a divorce, getting a protective order, or childcustody, something along those lines,but then also having to look at, well,

    • 03:06

      EMMA HETHERINGTON [continued]: how can we get you stable housed?And that's something they can always do in a courtroom.So the advocacy, again, had to go beyond that courtroomsetting.

    • 03:14

      RACHAEL LEBLOND: And what about the CEASEProgram now that you're working on?Can you walk us through what that is and what that entails?

    • 03:19

      EMMA HETHERINGTON: Absolutely.So in 2015, in the state of Georgia,there was a new law that was passed.It was known as the Hidden Predator Act.And what that did was it opened upthis two year retroactive window under whichsurvivors of child sexual abuse could sue their abusers.Otherwise in the state of Georgia, at the time,you could only file a lawsuit until your age 23.

    • 03:40

      EMMA HETHERINGTON [continued]: And we know cognitively, developmentally,when it comes to trauma and the effects of trauma really onlyhaving to the age 23 to get access to the courtroom,in the civil courtroom, not the criminal courtroom, that'sjust not enough time.The research shows that you would need more time.And so this the legislature provided this

    • 04:01

      EMMA HETHERINGTON [continued]: to two year window.And Marlon Wilbanks, whose motheris a survivor of child sexual abuseand he's a graduate of the University of GeorgiaSchool of Law, decided he wanted to help payfor a clinic that could represent survivorsin those lawsuits.And so then was born the Wilbanks Child Endangerment

    • 04:21

      EMMA HETHERINGTON [continued]: and Sexual Exploitation Clinic.And so we started our practice mainly just doingthose lawsuits, where we were specifically suing--I mean, it could be someone's teacher, a stepparent, familyfriend, whoever it was, whoever that personwas that sexually abused them.And out of those lawsuits, somethingthat you can't get out of a criminal system

    • 04:42

      EMMA HETHERINGTON [continued]: is, you can't always get those damages that you need, damagesmeaning monetary damages that can helpprovide those therapeutic services that a survivor reallyneeds.And so we have successfully either settled or triedall of our cases thus far.And then as the window closed, westarted taking some cases in juvenile court, where

    • 05:04

      EMMA HETHERINGTON [continued]: we represent survivors of child sexual abuseor of commercial sexual exploitation of children, whoare currently in foster care.And a lot of them also have some crossoverwith the delinquency system.And so we represent those childreneither as their stated interest attorney,meaning I advocate for what the child wants,

    • 05:26

      EMMA HETHERINGTON [continued]: or we will serve as their guardian ad litem.And in those cases, we provide representationfor what's in the best interest of the child, whichmay be a conflict with what the child wants.So the program is at the Universityof Georgia School of Law.We have eight law students every semesterand one to two social work students a year in the clinic.And they provide that direct representation.

    • 05:48

      EMMA HETHERINGTON [continued]: It's what we call experiential learning and legal education,which I believe is very similar to social work education.And in the clinic, they got to work with real clients.They get to practice in court under my supervisionor supervision of my staff attorney.They get to learn that interdisciplinary practicewith social workers.

    • 06:08

      EMMA HETHERINGTON [continued]: And so whether it be that we are representing an adult survivorof child sexual abuse or a child,who has more recently experienced that childsexual abuse, law students and social work studentscan both learn how to work directly with clientsand to advocate for them again that in court and out of courtadvocacy.

    • 06:25

      RACHAEL LEBLOND: It sounds like such a fruitful program,such a really useful program.What are some of the challenges that you've facedas you've done your work here?

    • 06:34

      EMMA HETHERINGTON: There are alwaysgoing to be several challenges whenyou're dealing with systems, when you're dealing--when you're advocating for survivorsin a system that sadly is very setup as making themfeel very powerless.Part of the effects of child sexual abuse

    • 06:56

      EMMA HETHERINGTON [continued]: is that feeling of less self-worthand feeling out of control.And so part of our challenge is to helpour clients feel empowered, to help them find that wayto find their own voice and for them to help advocatefor themselves and for them to feellike they are more in control.

    • 07:16

      EMMA HETHERINGTON [continued]: And it can be very challenging, because you'redealing with-- for example, in the juvenile courtsystem I'm dealing with DFCS.I'm dealing with the Department of Juvenile Justice.I might be dealing with parents, who have a different interestfrom their children, dealing with their exploitersor their abusers in court.I mean, there's all sorts of different people.And then there's this child, who a lot of people will say, well,

    • 07:39

      EMMA HETHERINGTON [continued]: they're a child.They don't know what's best for them.So we're going to tell them what they need.And that child just feels even more out of control.And so part of our work in the clinicis to bring back that sense of control to our clients.

    • 07:55

      RACHAEL LEBLOND: And then what continuesto inspire you to do this work?

    • 07:58

      EMMA HETHERINGTON: I think what inspiresme to do this work is--it's sort of twofold.One is, of course, the clients.I absolutely love working with my clients.There is nothing better than showing a clientthat I am there for them in the courtroom,that they do have a voice in that courtroom.

    • 08:18

      EMMA HETHERINGTON [continued]: And sometimes that voice has to be through an attorney,but I can be that voice for them.And that voice for them is not telling themwhat they should be doing or what they need, but reallysaying this is what this child wants,this is this child's voice and getting it back to them,like I said sort of that empowerment piece.And any a little win is a win.

    • 08:40

      EMMA HETHERINGTON [continued]: So for example, we recently--we have one client who is transgender.And we were able to successfully advocate overher mother's objections to get her hormone replacementtherapy that was recommended by her psychologist,her social workers, and by an endocrinologist.And so we were able to successfully

    • 08:60

      EMMA HETHERINGTON [continued]: advocate for that in court so that my client couldtransition.And those little wins like that, eventhough it's not this big win, life is still complicated.There's still a lot that she's going to have to overcome.It was something that she could then gain backthat control over and that she could trulyfeel like she was getting what she wanted out of it.

    • 09:24

      EMMA HETHERINGTON [continued]: And then the second part of why I just love doing this workand what keeps me going are my studentsand to see that I can help inspire a future generationof attorneys to do this work.When you think of law school, youthink of people go into these big firmsand making millions of dollars.

    • 09:45

      EMMA HETHERINGTON [continued]: You're not necessarily going in to work for children, honestly.I mean, my child clients, they are my bosses.They tell me what they want.And that's what I do.And you don't always think of it as, oh, that'swhat I can do out of law school.And so I love being able to sort of help moldthe minds of future lawyers and show them

    • 10:07

      EMMA HETHERINGTON [continued]: this is an area of advocacy that you can do as an attorney.And it's fulfilling, and it's needed.

    • 10:11

      RACHAEL LEBLOND: So with all of your intraprofessionalpractice, what advice might you have for social workers who areor for future social workers who mightbe involved in similar areas?

    • 10:21

      EMMA HETHERINGTON: Sure.I would say don't be afraid of lawyers.We're not all horrible people.We're not all scary.If you are subpoenaed to come to court,call the lawyer who sent you the subpoenaand ask them why they want you thereand figure out how you can work with them to better advocatefor your clients, because there's

    • 10:41

      EMMA HETHERINGTON [continued]: a lot that you can do as a social workeroutside of the courtroom.But so many of the decisions in your client's livesare unfortunately going to be made in a courtroom.And you can be a part of that voice.As a social worker, you can testify as an expert,whether it be in general social work.In the area where I work, it can be in child abuse neglect,child sexual abuse, trauma.

    • 11:03

      EMMA HETHERINGTON [continued]: And you can educate the court and the judge or juryabout what those things are.Because lawyers, we don't learn those things in law school.You have to educate us on them.And you can help guide how the outcome of the case will be.You can help influence the judge in makingreally informed decisions that will

    • 11:24

      EMMA HETHERINGTON [continued]: help your client in the end.So don't be afraid of lawyers.Don't be afraid of courtrooms.Just like I said, contact the lawyerwho sent you the subpoena.See what they want from you and even ask them.Say, I need practice.If you're afraid of going into a courtroom, say to them, look,I don't feel comfortable testifying.Is there a way that we can meet and wecan go through some of the questions that you want to ask.

    • 11:46

      EMMA HETHERINGTON [continued]: And then also don't be afraid to say,that's great you want to ask me those particular questions,but you might want to also ask me these other questions.Because again, lawyers, I'm not necessarilya subject matter expert in all things social work.I'm not a social worker.And I need social workers to educate meso that I can provide better advocacy in that courtroom.

    • 12:06

      RACHAEL LEBLOND: That's excellent advice.Thank you so much for your insights on all of this,on this practice and advocacy.We really appreciate it.

    • 12:14

      EMMA HETHERINGTON: Sure.Well, thank you so much.

Interprofessional Practice and Advocacy for Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse

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Unique ID: V817263


Emma Hetherington, Assistant Clinical Professor, School of Law at the University of Georgia, discusses her experience with interprofessional practice and advocacy.

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Interprofessional Practice and Advocacy for Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse

Emma Hetherington, Assistant Clinical Professor, School of Law at the University of Georgia, discusses her experience with interprofessional practice and advocacy.

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