Why is a social worker on a Civil Rights team?

Christina walking in Central Park with NSB client Clifford Jones

When people who have been wronged by the police and the justice system come to NSBHF, the social worker’s job is to support them through their journey for justice. Christina says she’s had the privilege to work with some of the most resilient people she’s ever met.

When Christina Paige set out to earn a degree in social work, a job at a law firm was not what she had in mind. But when she learned what kinds of clients she’d be working with at Neufeld Scheck Brustin Hoffmann & Freudenberger– people seeking justice in civil court for abuse by police, jail and prison injuries, and wrongful convictions – she jumped at the chance.

Take wrongful convictions, for example. People who have spent years behind bars for crimes they did not commit have been irreparably harmed. They’ve missed out on so many of life’s major milestones – kids’ birthdays, the death of a parent, weddings, funerals, graduations – and they’ve suffered the nightmare of knowing that life is passing them by while the real criminal goes free. It’s hard to imagine anything worse.

Being released for a crime you didn’t commit is an amazing thing. But once the celebrations and welcome home parties are over, things can look bleak. Most exonerees receive little or no compensation for the years they’ve lost to wrongful imprisonment, and there are no formal supports. Even after an official exoneration, the stigma from a conviction can linger, making it even harder to find a job or housing.

At its core, no matter the case, Christina’s job is to help each individual client identify their particular strengths and supports and figure out how best to make use of them. She asks each client what their hopes and dreams are—and ultimately helps them try to attain those goals. On a day-to-day basis, Christina also serves as a bridge to the other people involved in her client’s lives – therapists, doctors, case managers – to make sure her clients  get the support they deserve. When a client was afraid to go to the doctor, for instance, she went with him and helped advocate for what he needed. When another client lacked the documentation for an ID, they went to the DMV together and found someone in the office who was willing to listen and be creative. These things may seem small, but they’re so important.  After everything that’s happened in their lives, NSBHF clients need someone they can count on. Civil rights lawsuits can take years to be resolved, but Christina wants clients to know she is in it for the long haul, every step of the way.

NSBHF is one of the few private civil rights law firms with a dedicated social worker on staff, because we believe our clients have struggled enough. The legal jargon for compensating people who have been wronged is to “make them whole.”  That should mean helping the whole person, both inside and outside of the courtroom.

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