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Litigation News

Litigation News | 2020

Lawyers Help Protect Vulnerable Children

Erin Louise Palmer


  • Children, more often than we realize, confront life-altering decisions affecting their safety and wellbeing without the assistance of a lawyer. 
  • For example, a child may have to choose between an abusive foster home or living on the street, or have to decide whether to report an abusive relative and risk facing deportation.
  • This book highlights the crucial role that lawyers can play in protecting the rights of this vulnerable group.
Lawyers Help Protect Vulnerable Children
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More often than we may realize, children confront life-altering decisions affecting their safety and wellbeing without the assistance of a lawyer. A child may face the daunting task of having to choose between an abusive foster home or living on the streets, having to choose between taking a guilty plea or going to trial when facing criminal charges, or having to decide whether to report an abusive relative to the authorities and risk facing deportation.

Changing Lives: Lawyers Fighting for Children highlights the crucial role that lawyers can play in protecting the rights of this vulnerable group: “Only a lawyer who is representing the child is obligated to speak for the child, thereby ensuring that the child’s due process rights are protected.”

Edited by Lourdes M. Rosado, cochair of the Children’s Rights Litigation Committee of the ABA Section of Litigation, Changing Lives presents substantive analysis of various topics relevant to the legal representation of children. At 141 pages, Changing Lives engages readers while at the same time providing concise practical advice to lawyers representing children.

The book’s nine chapters are written by experienced practitioners, with each chapter discussing distinct subject matter areas, including:

  • representing infants and toddlers in the child welfare system
  • advocating for youth in the juvenile justice system
  • representing children in immigration actions
  • protecting youth in school discipline actions
  • advocacy in matters involving a child’s mental health
  • representing runaway and homeless youth
  • preventing youth from being tried as adults
  • representing older youth transitioning out of foster care
  • impact litigation to promote systemic reform

Each chapter also provides primers on relevant statutory and case law and practice tips, such as advice on conducting investigations, using experts, drafting motions, and trial advocacy.

Changing Lives effectively demonstrates how multiple areas of law intersect in the representation of children. For example, a child in school disciplinary proceedings may have a simultaneous juvenile delinquency case. Or a child with mental health issues may face involuntary commitment and a lack of proper educational services. Or a child victim of domestic violence may face deportation proceedings as a result of her immigration status.

Each chapter begins with an anecdote from a real-life case that represents the challenges lawyers face in representing children. In addition to capturing the reader’s attention and evoking compassion, these case profiles draw attention to the role of each child’s lawyer or lawyers in obtaining the best outcome for that child.In one chapter, Changing Lives recounts the important role an attorney played in placing a seventeen-month-old baby, whose mother had suffered from drug and alcohol abuse, with a supportive adoptive family. In another chapter, readers learn about an attorney’s representation of an undocumented child subjected to human trafficking and abused by her caretakers. In yet another chapter, Changing Lives presents the story of an attorney’s success in holding a state agency accountable for its failure to protect a sixteen-year-old boy who became homeless after he fled his caretaker’s repeated abuse.

Rosado also provides detailed statistical analysis of the difficulties faced by children in these particular situations, impressing upon readers the importance of proper legal representation. This data not only draws attention to the socioeconomic factors at play, but also highlights that minority children are often “disproportionately represented at all stages of the juvenile justice system.”

Changing Lives reveals deep flaws in a system designed to protect our nation’s children and underscores the singularly important role of lawyers’ in striving to achieve accountability and positive outcomes for children. As the Supreme Court stated in In re Gault, quoting a 1967 Report by the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice, “no single action holds more potential for achieving procedural justice for the child in the juvenile court than provision of counsel. The presence of an independent legal representative of the child . . . is the keystone of the whole structure of guarantees that a minimum system of procedural justice requires.” This book is not only a valuable resource for lawyers who represent children but also  serves as a reminder of how important legal representation can be for those least fortunate amongst us of any age.

Changing Lives: Lawyers Fighting for Children (ABA 2014) is available at the ABA Web Store or by calling 1-800-285-2221.