Conclusion

Through creative and resourceful strategies, the programs and services discussed above are providing comprehensive and holistic representation for delinquent youth. These programs have reorganized their office structures so that attorneys have the time to handle complex and cumbersome cases more effectively. They also have constructed ways to expand and develop their expertise in a broad range of noncriminal issues including disabilities, suspension/expulsion, Supplemental Security Income, health care, and civil rights laws. As a result, they have improved their representation of young clients and raised the level of practice within the courtroom.

In these programs, attorneys are able not only to represent young clients effectively in court, but also, in many instances, to have a long-lasting impact on their lives. Reduced caseload burdens; adequate administrative, investigative, and social work support; and a work environment that values juvenile defense allow attorneys to help youth return to school, find jobs and suitable living arrangements, and receive needed treatment and other services in addition to resolving their court cases. Dedicated attorneys address many of the causes underlying their clients' behavior, thereby enabling these youth to turn their lives around. Some of these attorneys teach street law and citizenship classes to help youth navigate complicated laws, programs, and procedures.

By spending time with their clients; learning about their lives, friends, and families; helping them understand legal proceedings and their rights; advocating vigorously on their behalf; and searching for solutions, these attorneys also show their clients that they truly care about their well being -- a fact that matters to many children almost as much as the outcome of their cases.

The attorneys and programs described here have begun to fulfill the promise of Gault, combining dynamic legal advocacy with the recognition that childhood is a unique time -- children need guidance and nurturance, and they possess a tremendous capacity to heal and change. They deserve the chances and opportunities for success that these outstanding legal advocacy programs can offer.

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Innovative Approaches to Juvenile Indigent Defense Juvenile Justice Bulletin   ·  December 1998