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Alumni Spotlight: Natasha Burdick PSL ‘17 speaks for children amid the pandemic

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - As an Attorney for the Child at The Legal Aid Society of Rochester, New York, Natasha (Schuyler) Burdick ‘17 is accustomed to challenges. Recent COVID-19 related challenges at work prove to be both an obstacle and an opportunity.

“Before, almost all of my time was spent physically in a courtroom. I might have seven cases in a morning, one of which could be a trial.  Now we have ‘virtual court’ in New York. For me, that is mostly case conferences, and occasionally emergency cases like child removal for abuse or neglect, or a serious juvenile case,” said Burdick.

With less time spent in court, Burdick has used this as an opportunity to participate in client outreach, joining her social work colleagues during their appointments.

“I have been doing a lot of checking in on clients. I have clients in foster care. I’m trying to make sure they can see their parents, either in-person or by video conference.”

In her childhood, Burdick was exposed to handling such demanding and difficult work. Her mother is a public defender in upstate New York, and Burdick would often accompany her mother to court and witness all manner of disputes, including family law cases.

“(Family court) can be really tough. I think having been around it from a young age helps me not get burnt out and to do the work without getting overwhelmed.” 

Burdick had long considered a career in children’s advocacy. She chose Penn State Law for its public interest offerings. As a law student, she participated in the Family Law Clinic and co-founded the Family Law Society. Her passion for children's issues has not dulled since then.   

“Someone needs to speak for and help the children. In New York, we treat kids the same way we would treat adult clients. If they can communicate something to me, I advocate for what they want. Often, even in bad situations, they want to go home, so we work to get parents food assistance, addiction services, parenting courses, to make that a possibility. The first step should not be breaking up families. We need someone there advocating for that, advocating for the children.”

For Burdick, the pandemic is yet another hurdle in her incredibly difficult and emotional work—and she will continue to speak up for the children.

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