Profiles in Practice: Amanda Harrington

In many ways, the role of program manager of Be@School, a program of the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, is the kind of position Amanda Harrington dreamed about when she first started her career. “I learned pretty early that I wanted to do something to help people,” Harrington recalls. However, it was a true professional journey that put her in a position to serve Hennepin County’s most vulnerable population—its children. 

Harrington grew up in Stillwaterwith an eye toward living in the Twin Cities. She started down that path by enrolling at the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul. Not knowing exactly what “helping people” would look like for her, Harrington took a position at a women’s chemical health treatment facility. “It was hands-down the hardest job I’ve ever had in my entire life,” Harrington remembers. However, the experience awoke Harrington to a desire to focus her service efforts away from adults and instead toward helping kids.  

Harrington joined CornerHouse Interagency Child Abuse Evaluation and Training Center in Minneapolis as a program assistant. CornerHouse, an accredited children’s advocacy center, supports children and families through the disclosure, investigation, and legal processes associated with child abuse. “That cemented for me that I love working with kids,” Harrington says. 

At CornerHouse, Harrington observed law enforcement, social workers, and attorneys all working together in service to children. This gave her the opportunity to consider potential career paths. “But I wasn’t quite sure what I would do with a law degree,” Harrington remembers. Conversely, Harrington knew that as a social worker, she would be able to provide children a space to be heard and supported through therapy services. 

Harrington decided the next step was to become a social worker. She earned a Master of Social Work from the University of Minnesota in 2006 and took positions with St. David’s Child Development and Family Services, Northside Child Development Center, and Lee Carlson Center for Mental Health & Well-Being before finally joining Minneapolis Public Schools as a school social worker in 2009. 

However, Harrington recalls, “I always had this nagging voice in the back of my head that something was missing.” Through her work with Minneapolis Public Schools, Harrington was exposed to special education law and compliance. That experience opened Harrington’s eyes to areas of legal work that impacted children. She realized that having a law degree might equip her to help even more people. After working as a social worker for almost 10 years, Harrington decided to go to law school.

Harrington started at the University of St. Thomas School of Law the same day her son started kindergarten. Harrington met the challenges that come with being a single parent, working as a social worker, and attending law school. That meant, among other things, that Harrington had little time to pursue extracurricular activities. However, during the summer, when she did not have classes, Harrington clerked at the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office. “It was really hard, but I did it,” Harrington proudly reflects. 

After graduation, the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office hired Harrington to a full-time position in Juvenile Prosecution. The prospect was demoralizing for Harrington at first. “I had spent my whole career focused on protecting kids and  now I was going to be putting them in jail,” Harrington remembers, “but then I learned that is not actually what the job was about.” It turned out the position was a great fit for Harrington. “I quickly realized that the juvenile justice system was sometimes the only way that certain kids and families were going to get the resources they needed,” Harrington says. 

Amanda-Harrington-2"I quickly realized that the juvenile justice system was sometimes the only way that certain kids and families were going to get the resources they needed.”

Eventually, Harrington decided that her background as a social worker would also be a valuable skillset for the Child Protection Division. She applied and was approved for that move. However, once there, the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office asked Harrington if she would be interested in being the program manager for Be@School, a truancy prevention program that seeks to address barriers to school attendance. “When you get that kind of invitation, you don’t say, ‘no,’” Harrington laughs, “but I secretly wanted it anyways, so I was super happy.”

As part of her job, Harrington is responsible for big-picture ideas for what the program should be. One of her first priorities was to survey agencies, contractors, and families to measure whether the program aligned with its mission. “When I was a social worker,” she shares, “there were new initiatives where no one asked any of the social workers how the initiative would actually play out.” As a result, Harrington is committed to involving those voices in any change.

What Harrington particularly likes about the role is that she is serving a whole system that supports children. “As a social worker for Minneapolis Public Schools,” she reflects, “I saw children and families in crisis moments and what it looked like for families to experience systems that are confusing and not necessarily helpful.” 

Harrington says her social work experience has also put her in a unique position to empathize with those social workers and other providers that act as a liaison between children, families, and county programs, such as Be@School. “I know that social workers are not just sitting at their desks all day taking calls from families about attendance,” Harrington says. “And this understanding helps me when I am then working with and training schools in how to meet some of our program requirements.”

As Harrington joyfully shares, “I am serving all students in Hennepin County, not just a certain geography, type of school, or type of student.” However, in addition to her work as program manager, Harrington also works on child protection cases on a limited basis. She also serves as a member of the Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers Board of Directors, and she is an at-large director on the Minnesota Association of Black Lawyers Board of Directors. She appreciates that she is in a job that allows her to work for the public good while practicing law. “I think this is the right path for me now.”


By Megan Bowman

2111 - BowmanMegan (1)Megan Bowman is an associate at Fredrikson & Byron, where she advises clients on technology and data issues. She is also a Certified Legal Project Manager and graduate of the University of St. Thomas School of Law. 
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