Published on March 22, 2024 by Sofia Paglioni  
cle event march 2024

In March, Samford University Cumberland School of Law hosted its second annual educational symposium aimed at leveraging faculty expertise in various legal areas. The school’s Continuing Legal Education (CLE) department, the Center for Children, Law and Ethics and Samford’s International Justice Mission (IJM) hosted a four-hour CLE seminar focused on the critical issue of child trafficking and featured Carissa Phelps, attorney and nationally recognized anti-human trafficking advocate.

During the seminar, Phelps discussed her personal journey as a trafficking survivor to inform others about the injustices and horrors many victims face. Her story is highlighted in the award-winning documentary "CARISSA," which debuted in 2008. Additionally, Phelps authored the memoir Runaway Girl: Escaping Life on the Streets One Helping Hand at a Time in 2012. Both the documentary and the memoir serve as powerful educational tools utilized nationwide by child welfare professionals, human trafficking survivors and advocates for justice reform.

Her advocacy work continues to change lives through her organization Runaway Girl FPC. This first-of-its-kind social purpose corporation helps communities respond to human trafficking and inspires survivors to embrace freedom and pursue their dreams. Professor Smolin emphasized the importance of this event for all participants. He said, “Our child trafficking event was an opportunity for students, attorneys, faculty, staff and others to hear Carissa Phelps, a survivor of child trafficking, tell her story, learn about the impact of trauma and the relationships between foster care and trafficking, hear from Christian organizations serving  child trafficking victims, learn about the ongoing legal struggles to provide remedies for victims and to delve more deeply into the complexities of adoption.”

Joining Phelps in her advocacy for children’s issues is Cumberland School of Law’s Center for Children, Law and Ethics. The center combines the interest and involvement of law students, local, national and international advisers, and the well-known scholarship of its director, Professor David Smolin. The center facilitates the production of meaningful, influential scholarship, projects and advice in the field of children’s issues. Samford IJM also advocates against human trafficking through education and fundraising, and in co-sponsored the conference helped extend the message to undergraduate students.

Other speakers included Tom Rawlings, counsel and Taylor English and former Guatemala country director for IJM; Herbie Newell, president and executive director of Lifeline Children’s Services; Caroline Potter, executive director of The Wellhouse; April Timko, executive director, and Allysen Efferson, director of clinical services,  from Street Hope, TN; and Valerie Schroeder, executive director of Camille Place. 

Cumberland School of Law Dean Blake Hudson reflected on the profound impact this event and the work of the center has had on Cumberland School of Law students. He said, “We are so thankful to have Professor Smolin working on these important issues. We are grateful to be able to bring light to these difficult issues through programming like this conference.”

In 2023, the school’s inaugural educational symposium focused on water crises and environmental justice. Environmental experts from across the United States served as panelists and presenters for that event.

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.