The Youth Law Center works on behalf of children and youth at risk of entering or already involved in several public systems, including:
- Child Welfare, which serves children and youth who have been physically or sexually abused or neglected; sometimes referred to as the dependency system
- Juvenile Justice, which serves children and youth who are alleged to or found to have commited a crime; sometimes referred to as the delinquency system
- Status Offense, referring to cases involving truancy, running away or commiting an offense that would not be a crime if committed by an adult (for example, possession of alcohol, or violating a curfew)
- Crossover Children, referring to those who move between the other systems, most often from the child welfare to the juvenile justice system
- Juveniles in the Criminal System, referring to children under the age of 18 who have been prosecuted in the adult criminal courts, and/or have been held in adult facilities
YLC’s work recognizes that what happens or does not happen for children in one system may cause them to penetrate into one or more of the other systems. For example, a child who has been in the child welfare system after experiencing physical abuse may, if proper treatment is not provided, act out in ways that bring him or her to the attention of the juvenile justice system. We work to assure that irrespective of the system they are in, that children and youth receive the support and services they need to move toward healthy, productive adulthood.
YLC has represented thousands of children in the course of litigating more than 60 cases in 18 states. We have helped to enact dozens of laws that protect children in public systems and improve their chances for success. We have helped to improve the quality of treatment for children in public systems through training and consulting with juvenile system professionals and public officials in almost every state. Our work has resulted in systemic and sustained change within the foster care and juvenile justice systems, described at greater length in the Achievements, Action & Litigation, Past Action and Past Litigation sections of the web site.