• June 2016
  • Vol. 17, No. 4

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Involving Youth in Foster Care in Court Cases

New data show that youth in foster care want to be involved with their legal proceedings and that courts are able to more effectively intervene on their behalf when they do. The American Bar Association's (ABA's) Center on Children and the Law issued a report, Engaging Youth in Court: A National Analysis, summarizing data collected from seven State judicial assessments in Colorado, Delaware, Kansas, New Jersey, Vermont, and Washington.
Findings show the following:

  • Decisions are better informed when youth are present in court.
  • Youth want to have a voice in court.
  • Most youth report the court experience as positive, even if the decision does not go their way.
  • Youth feel as though their voice is heard in court.
  • Youth are most concerned about potential placement, school, permanency, and visitation rights.
  • Barriers to youth involvement (e.g., transportation issues) are not insurmountable.

The report recommends the following to encourage better youth engagement:

  • Youth should be present at dependency court hearings.
  • Transportation issues should not be a reason to exclude youth.
  • In some cases, youth absence from court is preferable (e.g., if the judge determines it is not in his/her best interest).
  • Youth should receive child-friendly hearing notices.
  • Youth should be allowed to bring a support person with them.
  • Youth should be briefed ahead of a court appearance and debriefed after the hearing as to what to expect, how to act, what's next, etc.
  • Judges should engage the youth and explain what is going on in age-appropriate language.

The report is available on the ABA website at http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/child_law/youthengagement/NationalAnalysisFinal.authcheckdam.pdf (563 KB). 

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