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Women Bisnow
March 11, 2008

The Children’s Lawyer

This issue of Washington Women is presented by
Reznick Group:
"Building Business Value"


By Karin Tanabe for Bisnow on Business

“If the Jacks children had been clients, they would be alive today,” says Judith Sandalow, Executive Director of the Children’s Law Center, regarding the four local girls recently found dead in their home after apparent warning signs of abuse. “The District is in dire need of improved mental health services and improved family-centered substance abuse treatment,” Sandalow testified to the DC Council Committee on Human Services. “Firing a few social workers or publicly criticizing an agency will not adequately protect children or address the problems that led to the Jacks’ deaths.”


“We wanted art but it had to be cheap!” Sandalow says, praising the stenciled murals that adorn the office.


Sandalow, whose career would fit a John Grisham novel, graduated from Yale Law and began her career doing indigent criminal defense work for juveniles charged with serious crimes—from drug possession to murder. She has been at the helm of CLC, a non-profit providing legal services to children and families and helping at-risk children find safe, permanent homes, since 1999.

Outside the courtroom, Sandalow began caring for foster children and in 1996 adopted two sons, then seven and nine. “All of a sudden I was a single mom with two sons who needed me and five clients facing life without parole who needed me to work till midnight. I chose my sons,” says Sandalow who left her criminal practice to monitor DC prisons for the federal court.


The CLC team. “Our lawyers are the top in their field. They could leave here to join major law firms and triple their salaries.”


Approached by a CLC board member in the late ‘90s who said they had no money but needed an executive director, Sandalow became a volunteer fundraiser. When she joined as executive director there were three paid staff. Today there are 65 helping 1,000 children a year.

“Both my children have special needs from a life of neglect and abuse. I understand the problems and that drives my work,” says Sandalow. The CLC handles cases falling under the categories of adoption, custody, abuse and neglect, special education, domestic violence and government benefits. Clients come from the courts and social workers but also through the Children’s National Medical Center and direct referrals.


Desk chairs are so passé. “This is how I spend most of my time,” she tells us channeling her inner yogi.


Sandalow and CLC are currently trying to save Positive Nature, an after-school program providing therapeutic services to at-risk and emotionally disturbed youth. “My kids went to a therapeutic after-school program—I don’t know what I would have done without it. When my kids were in crisis, I refinanced my home for my son to go into a residential program—most families can’t afford that.” Sandalow’s oldest son Antonio, now 20, is currently doing a year of service as a teacher’s assistant with AmeriCorps in New Orleans.

“One story after another will make you cry but I want to make those stories end. I would love for us to go out of business. I would love to have no more kids that need us.”

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