Karissa Phelps LAW ’19 has been selected to complete a prestigious two-year Stoneleigh Emerging Leader Fellowship with the Temple Legal Aid Office and the Sheller Center for Social Justice under the guidance of Temple Law Clinical Professor Sarah Katz, Director of the Family Law Litigation Clinic. The Stoneleigh Foundation works to increase the quality of life for Philadelphia’s underserved youth by funding fellowships for distinguished young professionals dedicated to improving systems that serve the affected communities.

Graduating in May with both her Juris Doctor and her Master of Social Work, Phelps already has extensive experience in advocacy. During her time as a Bilingual Domestic Abuse Response Team Advocate at Laurel House, she provided support for victims seeking emergency shelter and Protection From Abuse (PFA) orders. Phelps was later honored with the Award for Innovation for her time as a Bilingual Family Advocate at the Maternity Care Coalition. Her subsequent work has spanned a variety of areas, including legal work on sex crimes, immigration law, and domestic violence through her internships at the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office, Esperanza Immigration Legal Services, and the Temple Legal Aid Office. Last summer, Phelps served as a Social Work Intern at the Support Center for Child Advocates where she assisted in successfully reuniting a client with his mother, facilitated the transition of a client to kinship care with her grandmother, and advocated for a family dealing with truancy and domestic violence to ensure they received appropriate services. She additionally worked as a judicial intern for the Honorable Judge C. Darnell Jones.

Looking at the work ahead of her, Phelps remarked, “everyone working in Philadelphia’s child welfare system has a valuable perspective on how we can better serve kids and families by placing more kids with kin – and what the barriers to doing so currently are. Ultimately, I hope to support connection and collaboration among everyone in our child welfare system to increase Philadelphia’s rates of kinship care placements and facilitate better outcomes for families and children. I am excited for the challenges and learning opportunities this will bring.”

As a Stoneleigh Emerging Leader Fellow, Phelps will work with Temple Law, local community groups, and the broader legal advocacy community to make kinship care more accessible for Philadelphia families involved in the child welfare system. She will be tasked with providing legal representation and advice to clients, advancing policy implementation efforts, developing and leading an advisory group, and creating resource tools/training methods for lawyers in a larger effort to promote kinship care.

“Social science research shows that the outcomes for children who are placed with relatives instead of with strangers in foster care are better. Such placements reduce the trauma children experience, increase the rates of reunification with parents, and improve child well-being,” Professor Katz explained. “This project is particularly timely because the Family First Prevention Services Act, which became law in February 2018, authorizes federal funding to promote placement of children with family. Karissa’s particular knowledge of social work practice and law will be a huge asset. I expect Karissa’s project will help bolster Philadelphia’s efforts to implement this new law.”

~Staff writer Liza Fitch