Project TeamChild

I was expelled from school. What I did was wrong, I know, but I wanted to make up for it, not sit at home for a year. My TeamChild advocate encouraged me to get into counseling and to start doing community service hours. She then negotiated with the school district, and we created a plan that would allow me back in school. I'm so happy to be back in school. I'll be able to show everyone that I can do well.

-- R.W., Project TeamChild client

Through an alliance between public defender and legal services organizations, Project TeamChild, a joint project of Columbia Legal Services, the Seattle-King County Defender Association, and the Washington Defender Association, addresses the gap in juvenile advocacy that results from the traditional separation of the civil and criminal justice systems. The project, initiated in 1995 with funding from OJJDP, supports a full-time attorney to represent juvenile offenders on civil legal issues. Public defenders can refer their clients to Project TeamChild for advocacy on issues such as access to education, mental and medical health benefits, and safe living situations.

Project TeamChild advocates for clients on a variety of issues, both in and outside the courtroom, most frequently addressing school issues. The project seeks readmission to school and other educational alternatives for expelled students and obtains specialized assessment and services for disabled youth. During the course of assisting clients, Project TeamChild often uncovers an unidentified learning disability or special need. This discovery can facilitate the return of children to school and the initiation of appropriate services. Project TeamChild attorneys also devise individualized programs and agreements that satisfy the needs of both school and student, eliminating the necessity for suspension or expulsion. Project TeamChild attorneys work with schools to ensure that students receive the full benefit of Federal and State laws that provide rights and services to those with special education needs.

Approximately 30 percent of Project TeamChild cases involve children with multiple problems. Project TeamChild lawyers bring together representatives from numerous agencies to devise plans that address these children's educational, mental health, medical, and housing needs comprehensively rather Figure 1: Comparison of Recidivism Rates After 6 Months than in a piecemeal fashion. In other cases, Project TeamChild assists public defenders by obtaining community-based alternatives to incarceration. Project TeamChild has often secured educational, mental health, or social services, so that judges are persuaded to give youth a community sentence. Volunteer tutors and mentors also play a critical role in Project TeamChild's success by providing encouragement and support to children.

Although Project TeamChild is a relatively new project, 2 years of independent evaluation have shown that it works. The findings demonstrated that Project TeamChild had tremendous success in facilitating school reentry (Ezell, 1997). Virtually every youth who was not in school when Project TeamChild opened that youth's case was reinstated by the time the case was closed. The study also found that, compared with a control group of similarly situated young people, Project TeamChild clients "showed better stability and direction in their school, mental health, family, and employment status. Further, Project TeamChild clients are less likely to be rearrested, violate probation, or be convicted of new crimes" (see figure 1). The evaluation concluded that Project TeamChild:

bullet Enhances juveniles' access to educational services.
bullet Increases opportunities for youth to obtain mental health and other social services.
bullet Helps reduce the likelihood of future criminal behavior.

With offices in four Washington State counties, Project TeamChild's goal is to help obtain needed services for its clients. Project TeamChild's partnership of civil and criminal legal services enhances dispositional outcomes.

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