Working to upskill lawyers who defend children…a shining light in the US youth justice system
The National Juvenile Defender Center is a brilliant idea – an NGO which campaigns for and facilitates the training of lawyers who defend children. As in England and Wales, any lawyer can defend a child here, with no specialist training or expertise. Yet children need lawyers who understand youth/juvenile justice law and the particular needs of children. Ideally such lawyers know enough about welfare and health law to use that knowledge in their advocacy, and to refer children to services. There is no national accreditation system for lawyers in the US, and every state has different ways of organising defence, so NJDC is working state by state to improve the skills of child defenders. They have developed a modular training programme and trained volunteers to deliver training for free to local lawyers. They are running a week long “academy” with lawyers from all over the States attending practically free. They have produced national standards for child defenders, which they campaign for individual states to adopt. And they campaign on issues which affect both lawyers and their child clients. In Colorad0 50% of children were appearing in court unrepresented. NJDC brought this to the attention of Colorado politicians in their assessment of the state, and were able to get state law changed so no child appeared without a lawyer.