When Karen Usselman Lindell ’12 moved to Philadelphia to clerk for Judge Kent Jordan on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, she immediately began looking for an organization she could support as a Skadden Fellow. Winning one of the coveted fellowships, through which the Skadden Foundation pays a young lawyer’s salary to do groundbreaking work with advocacy organizations, was a goal Lindell was determined to achieve.
Her efforts paid off when, in September, she started work at Philadelphia’s Juvenile Law Center, where she is developing a legal advocacy program to help older youth with disabilities who will soon “age out” of various child and juvenile assistance programs navigate the transition to adult services. Lindell is one of 28 Skadden Fellows nationwide whose two-year advocacy projects were funded in 2014. She is also the fourth Vanderbilt Law graduate in eight years to receive a prestigious Skadden Fellowship.
Lindell is excited about her project’s potential to make a meaningful difference in the lives of disabled youth by smoothing the often bumpy transition to adult services. “Systems that serve children and youth and those serving adults are often separated by a deep gap,” she said. “Youth with disabilities are particularly vulnerable—they need continuity of health care, educational and other services as they enter adulthood to have a meaningful chance for stability, health and success. My program will seek to improve outcomes by creating a process that helps disabled youth make the transition from juvenile support services of all types to the adult services they will need long term.”
Lindell identified the Juvenile Law Center as an organization where she wanted to serve soon after moving to Philadelphia. “I had taken Professor Terry Maroney’s Juvenile Justice class at Vanderbilt, and I saw this as a great opportunity to jump into that field,” she said.
Maroney, co-director of Vanderbilt’s Social Justice Program and herself a Skadden Fellow from 1999 to 2001, recently started a program to help VLS students and graduates secure more public interest fellowships. “I couldn’t be prouder of Karen Lindell, and I couldn’t be more excited for the young people who will gain her as an advocate,” she said. “Karen is brilliant, tenacious and caring, and I know she will give them everything she’s got.”
Lindell notes that things have gotten a lot better for Pennsylvania’s disabled youth in recent years. However, she emphasizes that the stakes of failing to ensure continuity of services for disabled youth as they reach adulthood are high. “If you don’t have a plan in place while they’re still in the juvenile system, there’s a high risk these children will become homeless adults,” she said.