Children's Rights Litigation

Programs & Materials

Missed an event or want to look back on what you learned? Find information and materials for the Children's Rights Litigation Committee’s programs here.

Interested in a Career in Children’s Law?

You can explore a career in child welfare and juvenile justice law through two free webinar recordings which Children's Rights Litigation Committee co-sponsored with the ABA Career Center. These programs are free and open to anyone.

Career Choice: Child Welfare (30 minutes) Held February 21, 2020 
Career Choice: Juvenile Justice (30 minutes) Held January 31, 2020 

Utilizing Habeas Corpus Petitions for Unaccompanied Immigrant Children

The federal government is subjecting immigrant children to prolonged detention. The Writ of Habeas Corpus in federal district court has become an increasingly important and powerful tool to attack unlawful detention and secure a child’s earlier release. Studies show that prolonged detention leads to serious physical and mental health problems for children, so securing an earlier release is critical. Habeas petitions can be used to attack statutory, regulatory, and constitutional violations that result in prolonged detention and the needless suffering of children. In this webinar that took place December 16, 2019, panelists shone a light on what is happening in federal immigration detention centers and demystified the law and procedure around habeas petitions. 


Anne Helms, DLA Piper, Chicago, IL (moderator)
Martin Gauto, CLINIC, Los Angeles, CA
Samantha Hsieh, Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights (CAIR) Coalition, Washington, D.C.
Lisa Lehner, Americans for Immigrant Justice, Miami, FL
Amy Maldonado, Attorney at Law, East Lansing, MI

Watch the program (no CLE available).

Burning down the House: The Myths around Youth Homelessness in America

This program is a dynamic discussion about what youth homelessness looks like in the United States and how the provision of legal services to homeless youth can dramatically improve their outcomes. In the US, over a half a million youth are homeless and lack access to legal representation to help them realize their rights to education, housing, civil rights and much more. The discussion also focused on an ABA Presidential initiative for the 2017-18 bar year that matches volunteer attorneys with homeless youth shelters to provide pro bono support including direct counsel to youth who arrive at a shelter with urgent legal needs, live legal clinics to represent groups of youth with similar needs, or legal education sessions to teach youth about important issues.

Hilarie Bass, President-Elect, American Bar Association (moderator)
Eve Stotland, Director, Legal Services Center, The Door
Courtney Smith, Youth Advisor, National Network for Youth
Gabriella C. McDonald, Pro Bono & New Projects Director, Texas Appleseed
Casey Trupin, Program Officer, Youth Homelessness, Raikes Foundation

» Download the Materials | 


Looking Ahead: Next Steps to Address Legal Financial Obligations for Youth
By Brent Pattison
There has been an increase of local governments instituting court costs, fines and fees for minor offenses which have a devastating impact on the poor. Conversations around these issues do not always focus on the effect of these costs and fees on juveniles specifically. Panelists on this program will discuss efforts specific to juveniles around the country, what has happened thus far, but importantly will look ahead to strategize future work that is needed to ensure that we are not criminalizing poverty for our children. (01:30:07)

Roundtable Series

Assuring a Successful Transition: Permanency and Connections in Transitioning Youth
The fifth and final program in this series on youth transitioning from foster care will focus on permanency and connections for transitioning youth. The expert panel will have a robust conversation about permanency for older youth, a term which is defined broadly to include adoptions, guardianships, reunification with family, connections to caring adults and more. The use of peer mentors will also be highlighted as an effective strategy for ensuring that permanency is prioritized for older youth and that they are actively involved in all aspects of defining and achieving permanency. (1:32:53)

Assuring a Successful Transition: Transition Planning for Special Populations
The fourth program in this series on youth transitioning from foster care will focus on what lawyers need to know regarding transition planning for special populations including LGBT youth, pregnant and parenting youth and youths with disabilities. (1:32:28)

Assuring a Successful Transition: What Legal Issues Do Transitioning Youth Face?
The third program in this series on youth transitioning from foster care will focus on the issues that lawyers need to be aware of in order to effectively represent their transitioning youth clients including Overlapping issues with criminal justice system; educational issues; housing; reproductive health and more. What training and support do lawyers representing this population need? How can lawyers ensure effective transition plans? Is there a role for pro bono lawyers in this work? (01:25:20)

Assuring a Successful Transition: What Is the Role of Lawyers and Courts for Transitioning Youth?
The second program in the series focused on youth transitioning from foster care will focus on the legal representation of youth, pre and post 18. Does the role of the lawyer change? What is the role of the court and does it change once the youth turns 18? How do lawyers provide effective representation that allows youth to truly evaluate the benefits of staying in care after they turn 18? Some lawyers are continuing representation after youth leave foster care – what does this role look like? Speakers will also address the role of lawyers in transition planning. (01:29:46)

Assuring a Successful Transition: An Overview of the Issue
This program will be the kick-off for a series of teleconference conversations around representing youth transitioning from foster care to adulthood. Panelists will give an overview of the issue, including defining transitioning youth, discussing federal law and exploring the tension around how we treat youth (e.g. kids in the child welfare system treated without agency under 18 but can be charged with a crime). Panelists will also discuss what different states are doing in terms of extended foster care, how many youth are staying in care after the age of 18 (and how many of them are receiving legal counsel), why some youth are not staying in care and general issues around the legal representation of this unique population. (01:27:39)

Criminalizing Poverty: Debtor's Prison in the 21st Century

Debtor's prison is thought to be a thing of the past, and yet there is a growing awareness that we continue to criminalize poverty in the United States. In the past decade there has been an increase of local governments instituting court costs, fines and fees for minor offenses which have a devastating effect on the poor. The inability to pay has resulted in the jailing of children and adults as well as the implementation of further debt by charging poor defendants for their public defender and room and board while in prison. Examples range from children receiving steep fines for truancy and then being jailed when they are unable to pay to adults being jailed for failing to pay fines associated with traffic violations. The issue came to the forefront with the Department of Justice's civil rights investigations in Ferguson, MO, which revealed that the Ferguson Municipal Court has a pattern of focusing on revenue rather than on public safety. This program examines the issue of the criminalization of poverty and discusses ways that lawyers can address this problem on both an individual and systematic level.

Lourdes Rosado, Chief of the Civil Rights Bureau, New York State Office of the Attorney General, New York, NY (moderator)
Alexes Harris, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Nick Allen, Columbia Legal Services, Seattle, WA
Jessica Feierman, Juvenile Law Center, Philadelphia, PA
Chiraag Bains, Senior Counsel to the Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, DC
Danielle Elyce Hirsch, Assistant Director of the Civil Justice Division, Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts, Chicago, IL

Addressing Compassion Fatigue: An Ethical Mandate

Working with clients in trauma can impact lawyers who represent children in the child welfare system, both personally and professionally. Prolonged or repeated exposure to trauma can result in an acute form of burnout called compassion fatigue. However, child lawyers, unlike other helping professionals, rarely have language for this loss of capacity nor support systems in place to combat it. Large caseloads, inadequate resources and systems that sometimes re-victimize instead of rehabilitate, can leave practitioners feeling ineffective and overwhelmed. These conditions compromise the child lawyer’s ethical duty to provide competent representation. Speakers focus on preventative and responsive strategies for solo practitioners, agency lawyers and leaders who manage child lawyers, as well as the ethical implications of compassion fatigue on child representation.

Trenny Stovall, Esq., DeKalb County Child Advocacy Center, Decatur, GA (moderator)
Alexandra Dolan, MSS, LSW, Support Center for Child Advocates, Philadelphia, PA
Josh Spitalnick, PhD, ABPP, Adjunct Asst. Professor in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Emory University SOM, Atlanta, GA
Françoise Mathieu, M.Ed., CCC., Co-Executive Director, TEND, Kingston, Ontario, Canada
Danielle Lynch, Esq.,  Supervising Attorney. DeKalb Child Advocacy Center, Decatur, GA

» Listen to the Audio Program | [MP3]

» Download the Materials | 

Representing Very Young Children: What does Zealous Advocacy Look Like?

This program was originally held on June 9, 2015, the very beginning of the recording is cut off, so it starts about 1 minute into the presentation. Providing legal representation to very young children (0-5 yrs) in dependency cases presents unique challenges. How does a lawyer represent a child who has limited language skills? What legal interests or rights does a lawyer protect? In states with a guardian ad litem model of representation, how do lawyers advocate for a very young child's best interests? Panelists will address these questions by discussing what lawyers in different states and systems are actually doing to provide zealous advocacy to some of our most vulnerable clients in juvenile court.   

Panelists: Brent Pattison, Director of the Middleton Center for Children’s Rights at Drake University Law School; Emily Kaplan, Assistant Attorney in Charge, Legal Aid Society, Juvenile Rights Practice, New York, NY; Tammy Mullins, Attorney Ad Litem, Pea Ridge, AR; Sara Johnson, Staff Attorney, KidsVoice; and  Lisa A. Kelly, Bobbe and Jon Bridge Professor of Child Advocacy, Director, Children and Youth Advocacy Clinic (CAYAC), University of Washington School of Law, Seattle, WA

Pot, Parenting, and Government Intervention

This webinar was offered on May 18, 2015. While marijuana cultivation, sale, and use remains illegal under federal law, there seems to be forward momentum to de-criminalize marijuana in a number of states (from de-criminalization down to parking violation level offenses, to legalized medical or even recreational use), the experience of front-line lawyers and advocates for children and parents involved in the child welfare system suggests that for the populations they serve (poor and disproportionately of color), marijuana use by parents still triggers drastic government intervention, including the removal of children and even the possible termination of parental rights. Why has a seeming broader tolerance for marijuana not translated to these systems? What are the equal justice issues involved? Is this reflective of the "criminalization of poverty"? What are the social and economic costs? The panelists for this webinar address these questions as well as many of the practical issues regarding marijuana and the child welfare system, both in states that have de-criminalized marijuana and in states where it is still illegal.

Developing a Private Litigation Approach to Charter School Accountability

This program was a discussion among national experts focused on developing an analysis of laws and strategies that apply to charter schools that can be used as a tool for accountability for student rights. Rosa Hirji of RKH Law Office in Culver City, CA, moderated the discussion among panelists: Preston Green, the John and Carla Klein Professor of Urban Education and Professor of Educational Leadership and Law at the University of Connecticut; Kathryn Honecker, Cochair of the Class Actions Committee in Phoenix, AZ; Cecily L. Jackson-Zapata of the Sustainable Law Group, P.C. in El Segundo, CA; Ira Lustbader of Children's Rights, Inc., New York, NY; and Scott Medlock of Edwards Law in Austin, TX.

» Listen to the Audio Program | [MP3]

So Happy Together: Law firm and In-House Counsel Working Together on Pro Bono

Teaming in-house lawyers with law firm lawyers can do, in the pro bono context, exactly what it does in the paid context—bring out the best of everyone involved. It can enhance service to the most disadvantaged members of society by combining talent, experience, legal knowledge and skills of each member of a client team. This teleconference, originally held on November 18, 2014, focused on the principles of a well-designed pro bono teaming project as well as how to set up the right team, build the necessary structure and choose the right project. Panelists included the director of Pro Bono Initiatives in NYC as well as the general counsel of Merck and the Executive Vice President of Ecolab.

Sweet Child O' Mine: Representing Children with Pro Bono Lawyers

This complimentary program was offered on October 21, 2014. Lots of volunteer attorneys want to dedicate their pro bono time to protecting the legal rights and meeting the legal needs of children. If you don't have a local project that engages the private bar or you are thinking about new ways to recruit volunteer attorneys or you just want to hear about some of the best models around the country to inspire some new projects (including law firm and in-house partnerships), this teleconference is an opportunity to hear from some folks who work with some best practice models.

Due Process Rights in Charter Schools

Advocates are raising concerns about the impact of charter schools on the civil rights of students of color, students with special needs, and the role that charter schools play in contributing to the school-to-prison pipeline. In this webinar, originally held on November 17, 2014, our speakers provided a data-based analysis about civil rights outcomes in charter schools, discussed the application of existing education laws on charter schools, and gave an overview of best practices to ensure due process rights in charter schools.

Changing Lives: Lawyers Fighting for Children Teaching and Discussion Guide

This teaching and discussion guide is meant to accompany the CRLC book Changing Lives: Lawyers Fighting for Children which illustrates the difference a highly trained and skilled attorney can make in the life of a child in need. Each chapter tells the story of a real child and the impact of skilled legal advocacy on the child's life, as well as practice tips, checklists, and resources for developing the expertise needed to zealously represent children in crisis to achieve the best outcome and ultimately help them grow into happy and successful adults. This teaching and discussion guide is designed for use with graduate students, particularly in the areas of law and social work.

» Download the Guide | 

Unaccompanied Immigrant Youth Alone in the Courts

The number of unaccompanied immigrant youth who arrive with no adult at our borders is skyrocketing with approximately 24,000 youth detained in 2012, more than three times the number of youth detained in 2008. These children have no right to a lawyer despite the high stakes and the complexity of the legal proceedings. This roundtable, originally presented on April 1, 2014, explores the difference lawyers can make for this population and the variety of legal remedies for these youth including Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), Asylum and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

Debunking the Myths: Public Accessibility of Juvenile Delinquency Records

This complimentary webinar took place on March 17, 2014. The webinar focuses on the common misconception that juvenile arrest and delinquency records are inaccessible to the public, erased when the juvenile exits the system, and are thus harmless. Indeed, just the opposite is true. Records of juvenile court involvement may have many negative consequences, including limiting a juvenile's ability to enroll in higher education and the military or obtain employment. Although many states provide mechanisms for sealing or expunging juvenile records, this remedy is only effective if records are truly destroyed and no longer accessible, which is increasingly difficult given digital means of record-keeping. Moreover, the problem is exacerbated by for-profit companies purchasing and further disseminating these records. In addition to describing the extent of the problem, this webinar highlights some current efforts to limit the public accessibility of such records and assist youth in expunging them.

» Download the Presentation | 

Alternatives to School Discipline: A New Frontier in Students' Rights

This roundtable, originally presented on Tuesday, October 22, 2013, explored the issue of alternative approaches to school discipline in response to the backlash on exclusionary practices that disparately impact students of color, students with disabilities, and other disadvantaged minority groups. Alternatives to traditional discipline include positive behavior supports, restorative practices, surveillance of social media, anti-bullying policies, and more. Schools, state legislatures, and even the federal Office for Civil Rights are accepting these approaches and are incorporating them into existing school-disciplinary policies and practices in various degrees. Additionally, school districts are increasingly reliant on other channels that avoid traditional discipline, such as truancy proceedings, special education, mental-health referrals, involvement of law enforcement, alternative schools, and/or charter schools. This panel examined the implications of these approaches to established constitutional and statutory rights of students.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder (FASD): What You Need to Know to Help Your Clients

This teleconference focuses on the things lawyers need to know to identify clients who might have a fetal alcohol syndrome disorder (FASD), provides techniques to recognize individuals with FASD (especially those with IQs of above 70), discusses how courts should treat individuals with FASD, and identifies services and accommodations individuals with FASD should receive and courts should provide.

Recognizing and Addressing LGBTQ Issues in Your Children's Law Caseload

This complimentary teleconference was held on Tuesday, March 13, 2012. It focuses on why lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ), as well as gender-nonconforming, youth are overrepresented in the justice system and the challenges they face, as well as how to spot issues of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender nonconformity in your cases and why it matters. It also included practical tips to advocate for your LGBTQ and gender nonconforming clients.

Training the Lawyer to Represent the Whole Child

The Children’s Rights Litigation Committee and NITA have put together a groundbreaking national training for children's lawyers, Training the Lawyer to Represent the Whole Child, that offers a unique opportunity for children's lawyers to focus both on courtroom skills and on substantive interdisciplinary issues that affect children involved with the legal system.

In order to effectively represent the needs of children, lawyers must be able to interview child clients, counsel their clients, negotiate on behalf of the child and represent the child's interests in a wide variety of hearings and court procedures. Additionally child clients are affected by a variety of interdisciplinary issues that attorneys who represent them must be aware of such as special education, homelessness, expulsion, physical and mental health, benefits and immigration.

In order to foster the distinctive skills of children' lawyers, NITA and the Children’s Rights Litigation Committee put together this exceptional six day training, along with support from the Juvenile Law Center, Loyola University School of Law, the National Association of Counsel for Children, Northwestern University School of Law, the Rocky Mountain Children's Law Center and the Support Center for Child Advocates. The outstanding materials were authored by Diane Geraghty of Loyola, and Tom Geraghty of the Bluhm Legal Clinic at Northwestern, and Angela Vigil of Baker and McKenzie. This training has been offered in Philadelphia and New York, and can be offered at other sites around the country. For more information contact our committee director, Catherine Krebs.

» Get More Information on Training