Former Skadden Fellow Tara Grigg Green Launches a Nonprofit To Represent the Legal Interests of Foster Children

Growing up as one of two biological children to parents who fostered more than 100 kids, Tara Grigg Green (’15) had a unique childhood that often frustrated her and interfered with her social life.

That outlook changed forever when, as an undergrad at Rice University, Tara accompanied her mom to a court hearing where the attorney ad litem had never met Tara’s foster sibling, who had been severely abused by her birth parents. “That was really when the switch flipped for me,” Tara recalls. “It was such a grave miscarriage of justice that the person who was making the decision (the judge) was relying on the person who was supposed to inform him (the attorney), but that information was wrong, missing or inaccurate because that attorney never got to know this child’s situation.”

That glimpse of the system’s lack of support for foster youth put Tara on a path to creating one of the leading foster care legal advocacy organizations in the Houston metropolitan area.

Tara now serves as the executive director of Foster Care Advocacy Center (FCAC), an organization she co-founded that strives to represent the legal interests of foster children, indigent parents and anyone else navigating the often difficult child welfare system in Texas. Since its founding in June 2018, the group has provided holistic support both in and out of the courtroom for almost 400 children and parents, including as attorneys ad litem or guardians ad litem in numerous legal hearings, mediation sessions, Child Protective Services proceedings and other forums to ensure children and parents are placed into the best caregiving situations available. The organization also provides social services to assist with out-of-court advocacy, including, among other assistance, ensuring clients have access to medical care and community services and meet various deadlines and requirements of the court, and checking that child placements are succeeding through follow-up family visits.

These services are particularly needed given the fragmented nature of the family court system in Texas, which does not contract with nonprofit law offices or feature a governmental office (other than a small outpost in Austin) that represents clients in these cases — the usual mechanisms in place in other cities and states. Instead, Texas judges typically choose who represents children and parents in child welfare cases from personal lists of attorneys and advocates. Securing a place on the judges’ lists and earning their trust meant Tara had to establish herself as a worthy advocate for those in need when starting her legal career. As a Skadden Fellow at Disability Rights Texas, a nonprofit that fights for those with disabilities through legal advocacy and education, she became known as an attorney who took on the difficult cases that other practitioners sometimes tend to avoid, often representing children with mental illness and parents with severe disabilities. “I really carved out a niche for myself in taking these high-intensity cases, and that’s how I built my reputation in the court system,” Tara says. Following the completion of her Fellowship, she secured pro bono help from Skadden’s Houston office to file 501(c)(3) paperwork and officially form FCAC.

To help put FCAC on judges’ radars and promote her background of handling tough representations during her Fellowship, Tara personally met with several candidates running for elected judicial placements on Houston-area courts, helping earn their trust and eventually securing FCAC’s position as a reliable advocacy group.

“I’m literally able to do this work because of the Fellowship,” Tara says. “Skadden gave me the skills, training and mentorship, and it got me through doors that wouldn’t have otherwise been open to me. The firm gave me credibility in a market that’s incredibly tough to break into.”

Now, almost five years since FCAC’s founding, Tara — who still carries a reduced caseload of clients in addition to her executive management responsibilities — is aiming to expand by hiring more social workers to relieve some of the responsibilities of the four full-time attorneys, who often must handle all aspects of each of the 60–70 cases they work on at any given time.

“A robust social services division is what I would love to have, since the ultimate goal is not only to provide excellence in legal advocacy but also social services support to make sure that parents and children are stable when the cases are closed,” Tara says.

FCAC handles about 250 cases at a time and is considering expanding to Waco and other cities in Texas. “I thought demand for our services would kind of hit a stasis where what comes in and what goes out is about even, but there’s growing demand all the time. Our lawyers are doing amazing work and just crushing it in the courtroom,” Tara says.

More than a decade later, Tara continues to credit that fateful court trip she took as an undergrad with inspiring her work in support of thousands of Houston-area foster children. “That’s really when I realized this is my calling,” Tara says. “It broke my heart such that I understood why my parents had devoted their lives to service and why I also needed to devote my life to service.”