What We Do

Juvenile Law Center stands with youth when systems meant to serve them fall short.

In 1975, four Temple Law School graduates saw a need for an organization dedicated to youth rights. Together, they founded Juvenile Law Center to advocate for rights, dignity, equity and opportunity for youth in the child welfare and justice systems – youth who often have no one in their corner.

We started as a non-profit public interest law firm directly representing individual youth, but soon realized our victories would be temporary or limited unless we tackled far-reaching problems caused by systemic failures across the country. Our work evolved, and our reach grew. Today, we are a national advocacy organization fighting for youth and families affected by the child welfare and justice systems.

This strategic shift coincided with ill-conceived policies in the late 80's and 90's which pushed an unprecedented number of youth into both systems: the “war on drugs,” welfare “reform,” and misguided hysteria about the myth of “super-predator” children. We responded to these threats at the highest level possible: the Supreme Court of the United States. Our efforts were pivotal in several landmark Supreme Court rulings, including:

  • Roper v. Simmons (2005), abolished the death penalty for youth
  • Graham v. Florida (2010), banned juvenile life without parole sentences in non-homicide cases
  • J.D.B. v. North Carolina (2011), found age relevant when determining whether youth reasonably believe that they are “in custody” and therefore subject to a Miranda warning
  • Miller v. Alabama (2012), ended mandatory juvenile life without parole sentences in homicide cases
  • Montgomery v. Louisiana (2015), applied Miller retroactively to cases closed before 2012

Juvenile Law Center’s role in the Luzerne County “kids-for-cash” case – one of the most egregious judicial scandals in U.S. history and which violated the rights of thousands of children – made national and international headlines.

Our national work led to global recognition. Our founders taught trial advocacy and lectured on the American juvenile justice system in Japan; they helped to launch the Child Law Clinic at the School of Law, University College Cork in Ireland; they spoke to jurists and academics building a legal system for children in China; they gathered in Cape Town, South Africa to help develop a legal system for youth in trouble with the law. Today, our staff speaks at events worldwide, and regularly connects with international journalists looking to understand the American justice and child welfare systems.

We ensure laws and policies advance racial and economic equity, and are rooted in research, consistent with children’s unique developmental traits, and reflect international human rights values. In 2008, we started our Youth Advocacy Program to put youth experience and expertise at the center of our advocacy strategies, with three components: Juveniles for JusticeYouth Fostering Change, and our Alumni Speakers Bureau.

Our approach is multi-pronged and includes: impact litigation, appellate advocacy and amicus (friend of the court) briefs, policy reform, education and training, professional consulting, youth advocacy programming, and strategic communications.

We’re leaders in the fight for youth rights. Some of the issues we work on include: banning solitary confinement; abolishing juvenile sex offender registries; limiting the prosecution of children as adults; preventing youth homelessness; reducing the number of youth who “age out” of foster care and, for those who do, demanding appropriate planning to help them transition to adulthood successfully; eliminating fees and costs in the juvenile justice system; ending juvenile life without parole, “virtual life” or other harsh adult sentencing for youth; and ensuring educational success for youth in the child welfare and justice systems.

Through our work:

  • We are involved in approximately 100 cases annually in jurisdictions nationwide.
  • We offer litigation support and technical assistance on hundreds of cases involving juvenile life without parole resentencings across the country.
  • We provide technical support when cities and states reform their child welfare policies.
  • We provide essential support to youth advocates so they can be effective agents of change, reaching an audience of over 3,200 stakeholders through dozens of presentations each year.

Juvenile Law Center’s work affects everyone because we focus on enforcing the rights of some of society’s most vulnerable people: youth in the child welfare and justice systems. We know that when children thrive, communities thrive. Together, we can stand up for rights, dignity, equity, and opportunity for youth nationwide.