Every day, vulnerable children suffer life-altering consequences because they lack an attorney to zealously advocate on their behalf, seek fair treatment, and hold public systems accountable.
Youth in the justice system must deal with incarceration, the loss of educational and employment opportunities, and life-long stigmatization. Children in abuse and neglect cases face similarly challenging outcomes, including separation from siblings, multiple foster homes and institutional placements, and repeated school disruptions that impede their success.
The United States Constitution guarantees youth a right to counsel in delinquency proceedings.1 To date, the United States Supreme Court has not found an equivalent constitutional right to counsel in dependency court, but about 30 states require representation for youth in abuse and neglect proceedings by statute.2 Even in those jurisdictions where children have attorneys, heavy caseloads and lack of resources too often prevent counsel from providing high-quality, holistic representation.
Juvenile Law Center strives to ensure a robust right to counsel for all youth in dependency and delinquency cases. Through litigation, policy reform, advocacy, and education, we work to enforce and promote this right and to enhance the skills, resources, and capacity of children’s attorneys.
Notable examples of our work include our involvement in the Luzerne County “kids-for cash” scandal, where we collaborated with legislators and policymakers to ensure that, regardless of their parents’ income, all children have access to counsel and do not waive this right. We have co-authored amicus briefs in several states in support of children’s access to counsel. Furthermore, we play an active role in the American Bar Association (ABA) Section of Litigation’s Children’s Rights Litigation Committee, which successfully advocated for ABA adoption of a model law for the representation of children in dependency proceedings.
We also train counsel for children in dependency, delinquency, and adult criminal proceedings across the country in partnership with such organizations as the National Association of Counsel for Children, the ABA Center on Children and the Law, National Juvenile Defender Center, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
1 In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1 (1967).
2 University of San Diego School of Law’s Children’s Advocacy Institute & First Star, A Child’s Right to Counsel A National Report Card on Legal Representation for Abused & Neglected Children 10 (3d ed.)
Last update: 2/8/2015
“We know from careful national studies that juveniles who lack counsel are much more likely to plead guilty without offering any defense or mitigating evidence.”
Laurence H. Tribe, Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and former senior counsel for Access to Justice, U.S. Department of Justice, Keynote Remarks at the Annual Conference of Chief Justices (July 26, 2010)
“America’s indigent defense systems continue to exist in a state of crisis, and the promise of Gideon is not being met. To address this crisis, Congress must not only end the forced budget cuts..., they must expand existing indigent defense programs, provide access to counsel for more juvenile defendants, and increase funding for federal public defender offices.”
Remarks of Attorney General Eric Holder at the Annual Meeting of the American Bar Association's House of Delegates, August 12, 2013.
The current crisis in providing legal counsel for the indigent – marked by understaffed, under-resourced public defender and legal services offices carrying overwhelming caseloads – threatens the well-being of our nation’s most vulnerable youth.
See, e.g., Mark Walsh, Fifty years after Gideon, lawyers still struggle to provide counsel to the indigent, ABA Journal, Mar. 1, 2013; Carrie Johnson¸ Legal Help For The Poor In 'State Of Crisis', National Public Radio, June 15, 2012
“[N]o single action holds more potential for achieving procedural justice for the child in the juvenile court than provision of counsel. …The most informal and well intentioned of judicial proceedings are technical; few adults without legal training can influence or even understand them; certainly children cannot.”
In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1, 39 (1967) (citation omitted).
|One of the most important lessons from our 40 years of experience is that children involved with the justice and foster care systems need zealous legal advocates. Your support for our work is more important now than ever before.||Support|