Juvenile Law Center

Eliza Patten

Dependency Project Director & Senior Staff Attorney
Legal Services for Children



Summer Intern, 1999

Lessons Learned

I remember screening films for possible use in the MacArthur Understanding Adolescents Training Curriculum, especially Streetwise, a documentary film about kids living on the streets of Seattle. It was my first lesson in adolescent development. I also remember helping to prepare a Motion for Reconsideration of Discharge of Dependency for an eighteen-year-old young man with significant mental health and developmental disabilities who was unprepared for a successful transition to independence. Nearly sixteen years later, in the era of Fostering Connections to Success, it’s hard to imagine how each case for extended jurisdiction had to be fought as an uphill battle. And I remember reading a lot that summer. Oh yes, and eating Burmese food on scorching, humid Philadelphia summer afternoons.

I learned to think broadly about a range of strategies for addressing the inequities experienced by children in state “systems of care”—everything from unequal access to education, to physical and mental health treatment, to family connections. Juvenile Law Center was always exploring alternate strategies to redress these wrongs, whether through litigation, policy advocacy, or calculated intervention in certain individual cases.

Impact on my Career

I was so inspired by the staff at Juvenile Law Center—their singular commitment to advancing the rights of youth; their fearlessness; and the way that they made what seemed to me at the time (and still sometimes seem to me) to be insurmountable problems susceptible to attack and improvement. Everything about Juvenile Law Center’s approach was done with an ethic of caring and with compassion for the youth and their circumstances, including their families. This was important to me because I saw myself as a parents' advocate, and came to believe that there is tremendous potential to advance the interests of parents and families through youth justice work.

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