ABA Activities

Child & Youth Activities

The American Bar Association has conducted many projects and produced numerous resources that focus on children and youth. These cover a wide range of issues and concerns and adopt a variety of approaches, including identifying the unmet legal needs of young people, serving as legal advocates for children and youth, and implementing law-related education programs to prevent juvenile delinquency.

This summarizes recent ABA efforts and highlights selected activities. For detailed descriptions of ABA projects and resources for children and youth. PDF

Work of ABA Entities

The following ABA groups have conducted projects for children and youth:

ABA Center on Children and the Law Young Lawyers Division: Created by the ABA Young Lawyers Division in 1978, the Center on Children and the Law is dedicated to improving children's lives through advances in law, justice, knowledge, practice, and public policy. A full-service technical assistance, training, and research program, the Center addresses a broad spectrum of law and court-related topics affecting children and youth. These include child abuse and neglect, adoption, adolescent health, foster and kinship care, custody and support, guardianship, missing and exploited children, and children's exposure to domestic violence. The Center makes available more than 35 books, manuals, curricula, and reports on various child welfare topics. Its primary educational resource is the monthly periodical, ABA Child Law Practice. The Center's website contains a resource on all ABA policies relating to children from the past 25 years at www.abanet.org/child/abapolicies.hmtl.

In addition to sponsoring the Center, the 125,000-member Young Lawyers Division also includes a Committee on Children and the Law and a Committee on Public Education. YLD and the Center present the annual ABA Child Advocacy Award to honor lawyers for distinguished service on behalf of children. In 2003, YLD established a new "One Child One Lawyer" initiative, which mobilizes and trains lawyers "to make a difference in the life of a child."

ABA Division for Public Education: The ABA Division for Public Education conducts law-related education (LRE) programs for children and youth, including those whose aim is to promote juvenile justice. The Division is one of five organizational partners in a national LRE consortium, "Youth for Justice," which is supported by the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Conducted for more than 25 years, this interorganizational national program emphasizes the use of LRE as an effective strategy to prevent juvenile delinquency and reduce youth violence. It supports LRE centers in every state and offers a coordinated set of programs and activities for young people, including the National Online Youth Summit, Teen Parents and the Law, Violence Prevention Outcomes in Civic Education, Law for Pregnant and Parenting Teens, and a Youth Court Initiative. Youth courts are diversion programs for youth offenders, who typically have engaged in minor delinquent or status offenses. More than 1,000 are operation throughout the country. The Division provides technical assistance and develops numerous resources to support these programs, including a new publication designed to provide guidance on handling offenses most commonly adjudicated in youth courts.

Criminal Justice Section, Juvenile Justice Committee: The Juvenile Justice Committee is one of the most active committees in the Criminal Justice Section. In recent years, the Committee has been the starting point for ABA policies on zero tolerance in public schools, youth being tried as adults, and federal juvenile justice legislation. Comprised of members from all sectors of the juvenile justice community, the Committee’s work during the coming year will emerge from a menu that includes a) status offenders (and best practices of prosecutors in diverting youth from a court’s status offender jurisdiction, and best practices for juvenile defense attorneys in preparing their teen clients, after adjudication, to engage in productive dialogue with judges and probation personnel); b) developing policy around youth competency to be defendants in adult and juvenile court; and c) policies around sentencing and confinement of juvenile offenders as adults. The Committee will also consider the scope of potential new juvenile justice standards on the connections between juvenile justice and other public systems, such as child welfare, education, and mental health. The Committee will stage CLE programs that are related to the policy issues on which it chooses to work. A new feature on the Committee's website is a description of model truancy prevention programs.

Podcast: The ABA Criminal Justice Section's Juvenile Justice Committee recently sponsored "From Truancy to Zero Tolerance: The Changing Border of Education and Juvenile Justice." The program, held on Aug. 23 in Washington, D.C., featured ABA President Karen J. Mathis as moderator. Commission on Youth at Risk liaison Robert Schwartz (executive director, Juvenile Law Center, Philadelphia) served as one of five panelists. Presentations addressed truancy interventions, zero tolerance, special education and disability rights vis-à-vis delinquency, and alternative remedies to court referrals.

Juvenile Justice Center (now, National Juvenile Defender Center:) Established in 1999 as the ABA's Juvenile Justice Center, the National Juvenile Defender Center became an independent organization in 2005. Its mission is to respond to the critical need to build the capacity of the juvenile defense bar and to improve access to counsel and quality of representation for children and youth in the justice system. The Center has produced a number of guides and other resources for juvenile defenders, including the Delinquency Notebook, a training guidebook providing lawyers with skills and strategies for handling juvenile cases; Legal Strategies to Reduce the Unnecessary Detention of Children; and a series of Fact Sheets on such issues as the juvenile death penalty and mental health medications used for adolescents.

Law Student Division: Each year the ABA Law Student Division chooses a Work-A-Day initiative in which law students from across the country can work together to address an issue of public interest. This year the Public Interest Committee has chosen "Helping Hands: Law Students United to Assist Youth-at-Risk” as the theme for all Work-A-Day programs. Law schools and students are encouraged to create activities and events during the month of October to address the legal needs and education of youth. The Law Student Division will provide a Tool Kit to help get law students started, but they are also free to be creative in designing programs that target issues in their community. This is a fun and meaningful way for law students to give back to the community and raise awareness about important issues in the legal system. The Law Student Division encourages all law students and law schools to get involved by implementing a Work-A-Day initiative this October, or at any time thereafter. They will hopefully be addressing the legal issues of vulnerable youth through: education – educating youth on legal issues and the law; assistance – assisting children involved in the legal system; and prevention - preventing youth who are at risk from falling prey to criminal involvement.

There are many other ABA groups that have engaged in projects and developed resources for children and youth, including the following:

Commission on Domestic Violence
Commission on Homelessness and Poverty
Commission on Immigration
Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law
Criminal Justice Section/Juvenile Justice Committee
Dispute Resolution Section
Family Law Section
Individual Rights and Responsibilities Section
International Law Section
Litigation Section Task Force on Children
Senior Lawyers Division
Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service, Child Custody Pro Bono Project
Tax Section
Tort and Insurance Practice Section

       Youth at Risk Initiative              Youth at Risk Initiative
Division for Public Education | Center on Children and the Law