Christina M. Yerian has been awarded a Skadden Fellowship to represent children denied access to behavioral health services. Described as "a legal Peace Corps" by The Los Angeles Times, the Skadden Fellowship Foundation awards approximately 30 two-year fellowships to graduating law students each year. Applicants for Skadden fellowships must create their own projects at existing public interest organizations, and the foundation provides each fellow a salary, benefits and tuition debt assistance if needed.
Yerian will join the Tennessee Justice Center, where she will provide legal representation for children covered under Tennessee’s TennCare (Medicaid) program, after graduating from Vanderbilt Law School in May.
Yerian competed for the honor with hundreds of 3Ls from top law schools. She had knowledgeable assistance preparing her proposal; Assistant Professor Terry Maroney and Visiting Fellow Doni Gewirtzman are both former Skadden fellows. Professor Maroney represented low-income gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth with the Urban Justice Center in New York, and Professor Gewirtzman served as a litigator at the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund’s national headquarters, where one of his cases involved representing the mother of Brandon Teena, a Nebraska teen whose murder was portrayed in the movie Boys Don’t Cry, in a wrongful death suit.
Professor Susan Brooks, an expert in domestic violence, recommended her for the fellowship.
Yerian hopes her legal services will enable more children who need behavioral health services to remain with their parents. “Behavioral health organizations often wrongfully deny or approve only minimal treatment to children covered under TennCare,” she explains. “Left untreated or under-treated, a child’s behavior often escalates until she is brought before a juvenile court judge, either on a delinquency charge or as a status offender, frequently on the initiative of her parents. Concerned parents, otherwise unable to obtain treatment, often then surrender custody at the quiet urging of case managers and treatment providers. Once a child is in state custody, the Department of Children’s Services frequently compounds the error by failing to assess children, follow assessment recommendations, and appropriately place children. This lack of services is particularly devastating to a child who has entered state custody precisely to receive treatment.”
Yerian clerked at Tennessee Legal Services last summer. After earning her Masters degree at Vanderbilt Divinity School in 1999, Yerian served as an AmeriCorps*VISTA volunteer with the Martha O’Bryan Center, a non-profit organization serving residents of Nashville’s largest public housing community, and then joined the staff of the organization as a grant writer.
Tired of “watching these women struggle to make ends meet while trying to keep their families intact,” Yerian asked a legal aid attorney to help the women in her program obtain their payments. “I watched as he listened intently, took notes, asked questions, and made a plan,” she says. “At the next program meeting, I was overjoyed to learn that some women had finally received their payments.”
She started Vanderbilt Law School in 2002 with the goal of developing the skills she needed to advocate effectively for underprivileged children.