Summer 2013
The Kids
Are Alright
Swapna Yeluri ’07 offers
children in need a voice –
and a friend – in court.
Swapna Yeluri ’07
The alumni pages
By Michael M. Bowden
Sometimes the stories are heart wrenching: a six-year-old girl
is being molested by her father, but she desperately wants to
stay with him, to keep her family together, to avoid being
put in a foster home.
“It might be bad at home, but it’s the only family she’s
ever known – and she’s probably right that foster care isn’t
the best solution,” says Swapna Yeluri ’07, a staff attorney
with Child Advocacy Unit of the Maryland Legal Aid
Bureau, based among the projects of inner-city Baltimore.
She represents abused and neglected children – from infants
to age 21 – in Child In Need of Assistance cases.
It’s Yeluri’s job to sort out the dynamics of complex
domestic situations by engaging directly with those whose
interests are most directly affected – the children. Her role is
especially essential under Maryland’s “youth’s wishes” standard,
which gives more weight to children’s viewpoints than the
“best interests” standard more commonly employed elsewhere.
Working with kids has always been Yeluri’s primary
professional interest; while still a student at RWU Law,
she served for two years as senior counselor at Child and
Family Services in Newport, R.I., working with abused and
neglected youth.
“A lot of the time, people don’t respect what children have
to say,” she says. “People think, ‘Well, they’re just kids; they
don’t really know what they want’ – but they
know. And
it’s not healthy to ignore them. Children have worthwhile
opinions and thoughtful perspectives; they’re so refreshing to
talk with. Especially when they’re younger, their point of view
is always innocent, even in the worst situations.”
In Yeluri, those children find not only a sympathetic ear,
but a skilled and passionate advocate. As a law student, she
won top honors in the National Moot Court Competition –
the largest appellate moot court competition in the world –
receiving the Best Brief Award for the New England region,
and defeating entries by nine other law schools including
Harvard, Boston College and Boston University.
An immigrant herself, Yeluri says she can relate to the
“outsider” feelings that many of her young clients experience.
Born in India, she came to the U.S. at age six. Her entire
family of six lived in a single studio apartment in a rough
Detroit neighborhood. Her father, an engineer, initially
worked parking cars; her mother at a Burger King. Years
later they developed a successful business, and moved to the
affluent suburb of Bloomfield. Yeluri attended Michigan
State University, majoring in business management. But her
hardscrabble childhood left an enduring impression.
“I understand the turmoil of growing up in an urban
environment,” Yeluri says. “I know what it is to be bullied
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