When Jenga Is More Helpful Than a Magnifying Glass: Meet CLC Investigator Alix Johnson

She doesn’t carry binoculars or spend hours in an unmarked van. We’re not even sure if she owns a trench coat.

What we do know is that Alix Johnson and the other nine Children’s Law Center (CLC) investigators are an integral part of our legal team. Alix works closely with CLC attorneys to learn about our clients’ lives so the team can best advocate for their safety and wellbeing.

How? Imagine the following case that one CLC team worked one:

A mom, Sammi Thomas, is struggling with drug addiction and leaves her baby boy, Jay, with his grandfather. Ms. Thomas’s father isn’t physically able to care for baby Jay, so the Child and Family Services Agency removes Jay and places him in foster care. Baby Jay is assigned an attorney from Children’s Law Center. After struggling with her addiction, Ms. Thomas comes back and wants to get better for her baby. CLC investigators help her get into a rehabilitation program. She’s no longer using drugs and is committed to motherhood. CLC connects her with the right resources, and she starts a new job, setting her on a path to reunification with baby Jay. The process lasts months.

So throughout this scenario, how does baby Jay’s attorney and her team know what’s best for Jay? Answering that question, and then taking the steps to make it happen, requires hours of investigative work.  

A Day in the Life

Alix spends her days getting to know children like Jay, learning about their family trees, working closely with court and school officials, coordinating with social workers, subpoenaing medical and school records, conducting in-depth research, and the most critical part: forging relationships.

“Our jobs are about building trust and respect with CLC clients,” Alix says about being an investigator. “We are part of the larger team, and every single one of us is working together to support this one person—this child going through a really tough time in his life.”

She finds face-to-face time critical when building this trust. That’s why you’ll often find Alix in the community, working directly with CLC clients—from playing in a living room with the tiniest toddlers to advocating for teens in education meetings. In cases similar to Jay’s, she evaluates foster homes, observes parental visits, researches rehabilitation programs and more.

Alix often meets with clients where they are most comfortable. One day you might spot her preparing a client to age out of foster care over a game of Jenga and on another day she is wearing a flashing laser tag vest while learning about a child’s family history.

Details Change Lives

According to CLC Director of Investigations Mary Laurin Brunson, investigators serve as a second set of eyes and ears for our legal teams.

“They make our clients feel comfortable opening up so we can best help them,” Brunson shares. “They build a rapport. Through each investigator’s hard work, we often discover things our clients need that no one has thought of.” 

Maybe a child needs a school uniform and hasn’t told his foster mother. Perhaps a teen needs help applying for a job, but has been too embarrassed to ask how. 

Alix ensures all CLC members working on the case are in tune with a child’s needs in every part of that child’s life. In many cases, the CLC team is the most stable, consistent presence in a child’s life.

“Our unique role gives us the flexibility to spend time with our clients and connect with them in real, meaningful ways,” Alix said. “I’m grateful for the openness of the families we work with. They allow us into their lives and welcome us into their homes. They are so resilient, and it is a privilege to work with and learn from them.”

Ms. Thomas is a perfect example of this resilience. She overcame drug abuse, maintains a steady job and does it all for Jay. The CLC team was there for every step of the journey, looking out for Jay as his mom worked to recover. When the CLC team last visited Ms. Thomas and Jay, they were happily reunited, in their cozy apartment with a Christmas tree twinkling in the corner.

It took hours of investigation and advocacy by the CLC team and hard work from Ms. Thomas to reunite baby Jay with his mother. Multiply those hours by the thousands of children CLC serves each year, and you start to see the true impact our investigators have on the lives of DC’s children.