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Last year, two siblings who attended a Cleveland school - designated as a Say Yes to Education school - suffered tragic loss when their father died unexpectedly. Their parents lived together and raised their children together for more than 20 years, but never married and their father was not named on the children’s birth certificates. Their father provided the sole financial support for the family. When he died, the siblings and their mother were forced to quickly vacate their home.
The mother applied for survivor benefits for the children through the Social Security Administration to give them some of the financial support their father previously provided. Social Security denied the application because their father’s name was not on their birth certificates, and the family sought legal help through the Say Yes to Education connection with Legal Aid. With legal assistance, their mother began the process of establishing posthumous paternity through Probate Court. Legal Aid also helped their mother submit documentation to Social Security confirming the paternal relationship. As a result, the siblings’ benefits were approved. The family received more than $20,000 in back benefits, providing important financial security to ensure the children can grow, thrive and graduate from school.
What is Say Yes?
In 2019, Cleveland became the fourth city in the United States designated as a Say Yes to Education community. The Say Yes program guarantees every student in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District and certain collaborating charter schools the financial support for post secondary education, and the supportive services needed to successfully complete Kindergarten through 12th grade. Say Yes Family Support Specialists at each school connect families with needed services and resources, including legal assistance.
Legal services to ensure shelter, safety and economic security are an important component Say Yes to Education. Say Yes legal services help children stay in school and thrive.
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How it Works
In the first year of the Say Yes to Education program (2019-2020), sixteen Cleveland schools participated and another 26 schools have been added for the second year (2020-2021). In the first six months, Family Support Specialists referred 90 people for help with legal issues. As of the 2020-2021 school year begins, 40% of the 38,000 students enrolled in Cleveland schools (and their families) are eligible for legal services through Say Yes to Education.
The Say Yes to Education Legal Services Task Force coordinates legal assistance for families in Say Yes schools. The Task Force, led by Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association and The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, welcomes support from the legal community. Other task force partners include Scranton Road Legal Services and the Cuyahoga County Public Defender.
When Say Yes Family Support Specialists refer clients, Legal Aid gathers preliminary information about the matter. Legal Aid's Volunteer Lawyer Program staff will reach out to volunteers about appropriate pro bono matters, and will post new opportunities under “Take A Case” on Legal Aid's website. Cases placed through Legal Aid’s Volunteer Lawyer’s Program afford the volunteer attorney malpractice coverage, necessary litigation costs, training and mentoring, if needed. Additionally, hours will be tracked and reported to the Ohio Supreme Court for CLE credit for pro bono.