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The Evolution of the DC Social Justice Transformations Network


In 2020, shortly after the adoption of a new Strategic Framework, the DC Bar Foundation imagined bringing together legal aid providers, funders, community activists, social service providers, and other stakeholders to build a network to help ensure that every DC resident has a fair and equitable experience within our civil legal aid system. To assist in that effort, we partnered with the Interaction Institute for Social Change because of their commitment to social change, network development, and racial equity, and we held our first convening in June 2021. Nearly three years later, I’m proud to say that we have remained steadfast in our commitment to transform the experience of District residents when they seek legal assistance at some of life’s most crucial moments.

 

When the Network first launched, it was called the DC Legal Aid Transformations Network. Early on, we were guided by our friends at the Full Frame Initiative, and we committed to centering wellbeing, which is about ensuring everyone has what they need to survive and thrive regardless of socioeconomic status.  We also created a purpose statement: Design and implement a coordinated intake and referral system in DC for legal aid and other social service providers that is user-centric and grounded in wellbeing, anti-racism, and anti-poverty.

 

As the Network matured, we continued to welcome stakeholders from different disciplines. And it became clear that, because of the name, not everyone could see themselves and their work reflected in the Network. We also needed a new structure to move the work forward. After much conversation and deliberation, the Network voted to rename itself the DC Social Justice Transformations Network (DC SJTN), and we created a Network Action Team charged with helping shape and define Network goals. We wanted a name that better reflected our mission and inclusivity. Indira Henard, executive director at the DC Rape Crisis Center and Network Action co-team leader, said the new name "reflects the melting pot that we continue to build in the community as we work at the intersections to address the needs of our most vulnerable residents in the District."

 

In addition to the new name, we created Project Teams to drive forward our top three priorities. Each Project Team is charged with developing a cohesive set of recommendations and corresponding action plans to address their topic through the lens of promoting wellbeing and addressing the roots of racism and poverty.

 

The three priorities the Project Teams will undertake are:

  1. Coordinated Intake and Referral (CIR). Coordinated Intake and Referral has been a priority for the Network since the Network launched in 2021. DC SJTN will support the development of CIR, a user-centered system that will make it easier for DC residents to access civil legal aid.

  2. Orientation and Training. Members of this team will focus on creating orientation materials for new attorneys at legal services organizations so that they understand the DC legal aid landscape. Training materials will include information about service providers and the unique structure of the DC Government and how it relates to legal services organizations.

  3. Relationship-Building. This team intends to establish better communication and collaboration among legal services, social services, and other stakeholders in the community. The goal for this team is to create a directory so that members can easily access other providers when they have clients who need specific support that might be outside their scope of work. 

 

Outside of these three priorities, some Network members are also exploring pay equity issues.

 

DC SJTN has evolved organically, and I am proud to see its growth and continued emphasis on bringing together stakeholders from different disciplines. Sheily Virella, attorney at Christian Legal Aid of the District of Columbia and Network Action co-team leader, says “by recognizing that justice extends beyond legal frameworks, we are committing to dismantling barriers through collective action and collaboration."  

 

I look forward to the work that will unfold within the DC Social Justice Transformations Network over the next several months, how it will help to deepen our connections and relationships within legal aid and beyond, and ultimately, how it will create impactful and sustainable change in the way we serve DC residents. 

 

With gratitude,

Kirra L. Jarratt

Chief Executive Officer

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