The Hartford-based Center for Children’s Advocacy (CCA) is celebrating its 25th year. What began as a nonprofit law firm specializing in children’s legal issues has grown into the largest children’s legal rights organization in New England. Founder and Executive Director Martha Stone spoke with MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price about how the organization has grown and why it’s committed to becoming a part of the Hartford Chamber of Commerce community.

NAN PRICE: Give us a little background about the organization.

MARTHA STONE: I started the CCA myself with $2,000, some office space above the boiler room at UConn Law School, and a vision to create an advocacy organization for kids who were falling through the cracks of the child welfare, juvenile justice, and health education systems.

There’s been a lot of blood, sweat, and tears in between year one and year 25. We’re now a statewide organization with 23 employees and a $2.8 million budget.

NAN: Tell us a little about the organization’s evolution.

MARTHA: After I started the organization, I had a vision to have underlying bedrock principles. Number one, we would partner with non-lawyers. Number two, we would take very little state money and remain a pure advocacy organization for at risk kids. And number three, I wanted to bring the legal services to where the kids were.

Very early on, I went to the superintendent of schools in Hartford and established a school-based legal clinic. It was originally at Hartford High, it’s now at Harding High School in Bridgeport. We then went to the chair of pediatrics at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center (CCMC) and started the second medical legal partnership in the country where we embedded a lawyer inside CCMC. Now CCA has offices in Bridgeport, Hartford, and New Haven as well as a Mobile Legal Office that meet youth in their home communities.

CCA represents kids who have been abused and neglected. We have a child abuse project. We represent kids who are juvenile justice involved and youth justice involved. So, we represent a lot of youth who are coming back from being incarcerated.

We also have an education project where we represent kids who are at risk of dropping out of school. And then we have lawyers in our medical legal partnership project, which covers the federally qualified health centers as well as CCMC and the Burgdorf Health Center in Hartford.

CCA provides individual advocacy representing kids and we train lawyers, social workers, teachers, and families. We also do legislative advocacy and systemic advocacy, such as Sheff versus O’Neil, where I am the main attorney.

NAN: Why Hartford? Why start the organization here?

MARTHA: I had been a civil rights lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for many years before this. At that time, I brought the Sheff versus O’Neil case. I also brought the large consent decree case against the Department of Children and Families (DCF). So, I was familiar with the issues in Hartford and the systems that were failing the kids. That’s why I decided to start the organization here in Hartford.

In my tenure, I’ve dealt with 17 school superintendents in Hartford, nine commissioners of education, eight or nine DCF commissioners, and about six commissioners at the Connecticut Department of Correction. So, I’ve watched people come and go and I think it’s really important to have some steady advocacy and leadership on behalf of the kids.

NAN: What compelled you to become a Hartford Chamber of Commerce member?

MARTHA: CCA would like to build and strengthen our relationships with the Greater Hartford business community as we look for new partnerships to develop in our 25th anniversary year. For example, we were delighted to work with the Connecticut Convention Center and The Hartford in June during our annual Spring for Kids event. We would be thrilled to continue building upon this momentum and attract more Greater Hartford businesses to this important event through our chamber membership.

Our membership with the Hartford Chamber of Commerce broadens the platform for the work we do for and on behalf of the children and youth in Hartford, which includes providing gift cards, clothes, school supplies, and food cards—especially around the holidays and start of school.

Building alliances with our corporate partners to support the specific needs of the children creates opportunities for local businesses that may already have in-community volunteer programs and be interested in getting involved with the outreach work we do.

Also, we’re always looking for people who are interested being on our board of directors. Those are the three areas where we could benefit from being Hartford Chamber of Commerce members.

NAN: How can our community become involved with your organization?

MARTHA: There’s always legislative advocacy. It’s the testimony before the legislature on some of the important bills. It’s the awareness of what’s happening in the community.

CCA also runs a racial and ethnic disparities committee meeting in Hartford where we look at where the racial disparities are for kids traveling through the juvenile justice system. So, there are plenty of opportunities to get involved.

Learn more about the Center for Children’s Advocacy | Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn | Twitter | YouTube