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Dec/Jan 2010Vol. 10, No. 10Encouraging Youth Involvement in Dependency Hearings

The voices of young people in foster care are rarely heard in the courtroom, where adults make critical decisions about the youths' lives. A recent article, "Where Are All the Children? Increasing Youth Participation in Dependency Proceedings," argues that youth participation in juvenile court hearings greatly benefits children and courts. By being present in court, children and youth can offer valuable insights into their lives and gain a better understanding of the judicial system. In turn, judges are able to make more informed decisions leading to better outcomes for foster youth and their families. 

While data on youth participation in court are difficult to obtain, Home At Last's (2006) Foster Youth Participation in Court's national survey revealed that less than 15 percent of respondents attended their own court hearings. The author notes that if these data are representative, systemic changes are needed to increase youth participation and make children feel welcome in court.

The article provides examples of successful policies that have been implemented by local jurisdictions as well as suggestions for agencies, leaders, and advocates to increase youth participation in court. Recommendations include:

  • Having a fair, impartial, and orderly system allowing children opportunities to be heard
  • Reaching a consensus among all stakeholders regarding youth participation in court
  • Requiring children in foster care to attend their court hearings
  • Helping children gain a sense of control through court involvement

The article, "Where Are All the Children?  Increasing Youth Participation in Dependency Proceedings," by Erik S. Pitchal, was published in the UC Davis Journal of Juvenile Law & Policy, Vol. 12, Winter 2008, and can be downloaded without charge from the Social Science Research Network: