COVID-19: Juvenile Law Center’s Response to the Crisis
(updated on an ongoing basis, as recently as May 15, 2020)
Unable to practice social distancing. Unsanitary conditions. Insufficient access to soap and water for hand washing. Isolated from family and community.
These are the daily realities for youth in the child welfare and justice systems during this pandemic. Residential facilities are breeding grounds for the contagion since youth share sleeping, living, bathroom, dining and recreational spaces. A substantial number of these youth have pre-existing conditions that make them particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. Juvenile Law Center is fighting at the federal, state and local levels, alongside peers, to ensure that youth in the custody of public systems are protected.
In the justice system, we are fighting for the release of as many youth as possible. For those who cannot safely return to family and community, meaningful remote visitation, safe living conditions, and access to virtual educational and other programming are essential, basic rights. We sent policy recommendations with colleagues to Governor Wolf and reached out to the Juvenile Court Judges’ Commission for their assistance to expedite reductions in the number of youth in custody as well as Mayor Kenney and Philadelphia judges. We sought extraordinary relief from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for emergency, statewide guidance for the rapid review and release of confined youth. The Court denied the Petition but directed judges statewide to consider the public health crisis in their decisions. We also filed a federal class action in Louisiana with partners. We are sharing pleadings and providing legal support with colleagues in several other states. We are beginning to see success from those efforts with the release of youth from custody. We are also calling for a moratorium on fees and fines in the juvenile justice system during this public health and economic crisis.
In the child welfare system, we are working with advocates nationally to get provisions in the next COVID-19 bill that will benefit youth in foster care and those aging out. We are working here in Pennsylvania and assisting other states in implementing state reforms. We are connecting with state partners regularly to ensure they have the tools they need in this advocacy. No youth should ever be discharged to homelessness, but in the midst of stay-at-home orders, unstable housing is a life-threatening risk. We are creating FAQs to help advocates best use federal guidance to advocate for older youth. We must ensure streamlined re-entry into foster care for youth who are still eligible for extended care and suspension of school attendance and work requirements for older youth to remain in care to age 21. We are working with partners to develop tools to help attorneys, advocates, and services providers. We urge others to share our tools for older youth and the COVID-19 resources in our Youth Matters: Philly app. We are also joining with colleagues to urge Congress to increase funding for Chafee program support services for youth in foster care to age 23 in the #UpChafee campaign.
Youth in the child welfare and justice systems need us to stand with them in the fight for their health and safety. We stand with them during this crisis.