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American Bar Association

  Children's Rights Litigation

Programs & Materials

Criminalizing Poverty: Debtor's Prison in the 21st Century

Debtor's prison is thought to be a thing of the past, and yet there is a growing awareness that we continue to criminalize poverty in the United States. In the past decade there has been an increase of local governments instituting court costs, fines and fees for minor offenses which have a devastating effect on the poor. The inability to pay has resulted in the jailing of children and adults as well as the implementation of further debt by charging poor defendants for their public defender and room and board while in prison. Examples range from children receiving steep fines for truancy and then being jailed when they are unable to pay to adults being jailed for failing to pay fines associated with traffic violations. The issue came to the forefront with the Department of Justice's civil rights investigations in Ferguson, MO, which revealed that the Ferguson Municipal Court has a pattern of focusing on revenue rather than on public safety. This program examines the issue of the criminalization of poverty and discusses ways that lawyers can address this problem on both an individual and systematic level.


Lourdes Rosado, Chief of the Civil Rights Bureau, New York State Office of the Attorney General, New York, NY (moderator)
Alexes Harris, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Nick Allen, Columbia Legal Services, Seattle, WA
Jessica Feierman, Juvenile Law Center, Philadelphia, PA
Chiraag Bains, Senior Counsel to the Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, DC
Danielle Elyce Hirsch, Assistant Director of the Civil Justice Division, Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts, Chicago, IL



Addressing Compassion Fatigue: An Ethical Mandate

Working with clients in trauma can impact lawyers who represent children in the child welfare system, both personally and professionally.  Prolonged or repeated exposure to the abuse and neglect suffered by child victims can result in an acute form of burnout called compassion fatigue.  However, child lawyers, unlike other helping professionals, rarely have language for this loss of capacity nor support systems in place to combat it.  Large caseloads, inadequate resources and systems that sometimes re-victimize instead of rehabilitate, leave practitioners feeling ineffective, incompetent and lacking compassion. These conditions compromise the child lawyer’s ethical duty to provide competent representation. Speakers focus on preventative and responsive strategies for solo practitioners, agency lawyers and leaders who manage child lawyers, as well as the ethical implications of compassion fatigue on child representation.


Trenny Stovall, Esq., DeKalb County Child Advocacy Center, Decatur, GA (moderator)
Alexandra Dolan, MSS, LSW, Support Center for Child Advocates, Philadelphia, PA
Josh Spitalnick, PhD, ABPP, Adjunct Asst. Professor in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Emory University SOM, Atlanta, GA
Françoise Mathieu, M.Ed., CCC., Co-Executive Director, TEND, Kingston, Ontario, Canada
Danielle Lynch, Esq.,  Supervising Attorney. DeKalb Child Advocacy Center, Decatur, GA



Representing Very Young Children: What does Zealous Advocacy Look Like?

This program was originally held on June 9, 2015, the very beginning of the recording is cut off, so it starts about 1 minute into the presentation. Providing legal representation to very young children (0-5 yrs) in dependency cases presents unique challenges. How does a lawyer represent a child who has limited language skills? What legal interests or rights does a lawyer protect? In states with a guardian ad litem model of representation, how do lawyers advocate for a very young child's best interests? Panelists will address these questions by discussing what lawyers in different states and systems are actually doing to provide zealous advocacy to some of our most vulnerable clients in juvenile court.   


Panelists: Brent Pattison, Director of the Middleton Center for Children’s Rights at Drake University Law School; Emily Kaplan, Assistant Attorney in Charge, Legal Aid Society, Juvenile Rights Practice, New York, NY; Tammy Mullins, Attorney Ad Litem, Pea Ridge, AR; Sara Johnson, Staff Attorney, KidsVoice; and  Lisa A. Kelly, Bobbe and Jon Bridge Professor of Child Advocacy, Director, Children and Youth Advocacy Clinic (CAYAC), University of Washington School of Law, Seattle, WA



Pot, Parenting, and Government Intervention

This webinar was offered on May 18, 2015. While marijuana cultivation, sale, and use remains illegal under federal law, there seems to be forward momentum to de-criminalize marijuana in a number of states (from de-criminalization down to parking violation level offenses, to legalized medical or even recreational use), the experience of front-line lawyers and advocates for children and parents involved in the child welfare system suggests that for the populations they serve (poor and disproportionately of color), marijuana use by parents still triggers drastic government intervention, including the removal of children and even the possible termination of parental rights. Why has a seeming broader tolerance for marijuana not translated to these systems? What are the equal justice issues involved? Is this reflective of the "criminalization of poverty"? What are the social and economic costs? The panelists for this webinar address these questions as well as many of the practical issues regarding marijuana and the child welfare system, both in states that have de-criminalized marijuana and in states where it is still illegal.



Developing a Private Litigation Approach to Charter School Accountability

This program was a discussion among national experts focused on developing an analysis of laws and strategies that apply to charter schools that can be used as a tool for accountability for student rights. Rosa Hirji of RKH Law Office in Culver City, CA, moderated the discussion among panelists: Preston Green, the John and Carla Klein Professor of Urban Education and Professor of Educational Leadership and Law at the University of Connecticut; Kathryn Honecker, Cochair of the Class Actions Committee in Phoenix, AZ; Cecily L. Jackson-Zapata of the Sustainable Law Group, P.C. in El Segundo, CA; Ira Lustbader of Children's Rights, Inc., New York, NY; and Scott Medlock of Edwards Law in Austin, TX.



So Happy Together: Law firm and In-House Counsel Working Together on Pro Bono

Teaming in-house lawyers with law firm lawyers can do, in the pro bono context, exactly what it does in the paid context—bring out the best of everyone involved. It can enhance service to the most disadvantaged members of society by combining talent, experience, legal knowledge and skills of each member of a client team. This teleconference, originally held on November 18, 2014, focused on the principles of a well-designed pro bono teaming project as well as how to set up the right team, build the necessary structure and choose the right project. Panelists included the director of Pro Bono Initiatives in NYC as well as the general counsel of Merck and the Executive Vice President of Ecolab.



Sweet Child O' Mine: Representing Children with Pro Bono Lawyers

This complimentary program was offered on October 21, 2014. Lots of volunteer attorneys want to dedicate their pro bono time to protecting the legal rights and meeting the legal needs of children. If you don't have a local project that engages the private bar or you are thinking about new ways to recruit volunteer attorneys or you just want to hear about some of the best models around the country to inspire some new projects (including law firm and in-house partnerships), this teleconference is an opportunity to hear from some folks who work with some best practice models.



Due Process Rights in Charter Schools

Advocates are raising concerns about the impact of charter schools on the civil rights of students of color, students with special needs, and the role that charter schools play in contributing to the school-to-prison pipeline. In this webinar, originally held on November 17, 2014, our speakers provided a data-based analysis about civil rights outcomes in charter schools, discussed the application of existing education laws on charter schools, and gave an overview of best practices to ensure due process rights in charter schools.



Changing Lives: Lawyers Fighting for Children Teaching and Discussion Guide

This teaching and discussion guide is meant to accompany the CRLC book Changing Lives: Lawyers Fighting for Children which illustrates the difference a highly trained and skilled attorney can make in the life of a child in need. Each chapter tells the story of a real child and the impact of skilled legal advocacy on the child's life, as well as practice tips, checklists, and resources for developing the expertise needed to zealously represent children in crisis to achieve the best outcome and ultimately help them grow into happy and successful adults. This teaching and discussion guide is designed for use with graduate students, particularly in the areas of law and social work.



Unaccompanied Immigrant Youth Alone in the Courts

The number of unaccompanied immigrant youth who arrive with no adult at our borders is skyrocketing with approximately 24,000 youth detained in 2012, more than three times the number of youth detained in 2008. These children have no right to a lawyer despite the high stakes and the complexity of the legal proceedings. This roundtable, originally presented on April 1, 2014, explores the difference lawyers can make for this population and the variety of legal remedies for these youth including Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), Asylum and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).



Debunking the Myths: Public Accessibility of Juvenile Delinquency Records

This complimentary webinar took place on March 17, 2014. The webinar focuses on the common misconception that juvenile arrest and delinquency records are inaccessible to the public, erased when the juvenile exits the system, and are thus harmless. Indeed, just the opposite is true. Records of juvenile court involvement may have many negative consequences, including limiting a juvenile's ability to enroll in higher education and the military or obtain employment. Although many states provide mechanisms for sealing or expunging juvenile records, this remedy is only effective if records are truly destroyed and no longer accessible, which is increasingly difficult given digital means of record-keeping. Moreover, the problem is exacerbated by for-profit companies purchasing and further disseminating these records. In addition to describing the extent of the problem, this webinar highlights some current efforts to limit the public accessibility of such records and assist youth in expunging them.



Alternatives to School Discipline: A New Frontier in Students' Rights

This roundtable, originally presented on Tuesday, October 22, 2013, explored the issue of alternative approaches to school discipline in response to the backlash on exclusionary practices that disparately impact students of color, students with disabilities, and other disadvantaged minority groups. Alternatives to traditional discipline include positive behavior supports, restorative practices, surveillance of social media, anti-bullying policies, and more. Schools, state legislatures, and even the federal Office for Civil Rights are accepting these approaches and are incorporating them into existing school-disciplinary policies and practices in various degrees. Additionally, school districts are increasingly reliant on other channels that avoid traditional discipline, such as truancy proceedings, special education, mental-health referrals, involvement of law enforcement, alternative schools, and/or charter schools. This panel examined the implications of these approaches to established constitutional and statutory rights of students.



Accountability Project Convenes a Working Group to Discuss OCR/DOJ Complaints

Attorney's from around the county share their experience with filing education-related OCR and DOJ complaints.



From 17–21: What Lawyers, Judges, and Agencies Should Be Doing for Kids Aging out of Foster Care

This complimentary webinar took place on March 12, 2013. The teleconference focuses on practical ideas and options for lawyers, judges, and agencies to better assist the children aging out of foster care, such as: how to ensure a successful transition from foster care to adulthood, including returning post-18 children to the foster system; foster children in the juvenile system at 18; expungement of juvenile records; and legal representation for post-18 children and model (state) laws that are in place to ensure a smooth transition.



Project Leverages OCR's Disparate Impact Analysis

The committee hosted a round table discussion to kick off this project which focuses on the use of the disparate impact analysis in complaints with the Office for Civil Rights with the goal of disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline. Panelists discuss how the project can strategically use this theory to meet its goals. For more information and to get involved, email rosa@rkhlawoffice.com.



Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder (FASD): What You Need to Know to Help Your Clients

This teleconference focuses on the things lawyers need to know to identify clients who might have a fetal alcohol syndrome disorder (FASD), provides techniques to recognize individuals with FASD (especially those with IQs of above 70), discusses how courts should treat individuals with FASD, and identifies services and accommodations individuals with FASD should receive and courts should provide.


Making a Difference for Abused and Neglected Youth

These handouts were used during a plenary session at the Section of Litigation’s Spring Leadership Meeting in June 21–23, 2012, in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The handouts describe the efforts of the American Bar Association and the Children’s Rights Litigation Committee to assist abused and neglected youth, and they explain what lawyers can do to identify abuse and to get involved and make a difference.


Recognizing and Addressing LGBTQ Issues in Your Children's Law Caseload

This complimentary teleconference was held on Tuesday, March 13, 2012. It focuses on why lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ), as well as gender-nonconforming, youth are overrepresented in the justice system and the challenges they face, as well as how to spot issues of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender nonconformity in your cases and why it matters. It also included practical tips to advocate for your LGBTQ and gender nonconforming clients.


Changing the School-to-Prison Pipeline to a Cradle-to-College Pipeline

These materials were used during a plenary session at the Section of Litigation's Winter Leadership Meeting, held January 12–14, 2012, in Las Vegas, Nevada. They describe efforts of the the American Bar Association and the Children's Rights Litigation Committee to put a stop to the "school-to-prison pipeline," and they explain what lawyers can do to get involved.


Making a Difference for LGBT Youth

This handout was used during a plenary session at the Section of Litigation's Fall Leadership Meeting in September 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. The handout describes the efforts of the the American Bar Association and the Children's Rights Litigation Committee to help lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) youth face their unique challenges, and it explains what lawyers can do to get involved.


Counseling Children and Youth in Times of Crisis: Tips to Achieve Success and Avoid Pitfalls

This complimentary taped teleconference that was held on March 8, 2011, focused on the legal counseling of children. Counseling is a critical component of representing child clients. This training provides lawyers with techniques and strategies to enhance their counseling skills. The speakers focus on how lawyers for children can establish a rapport with their clients, convey complex information in an understandable way, work with child clients to determine the goals of the legal representation, and ethically respond when the client is asking for an outcome that the lawyer believes is unsafe.


Plenary sessions from Raising our Hands Summit

Interviewing Child Client (Video Still)On October 23, 2009, 200 lawyers gathered at Raising our Hands: Creating a National Strategy for a Child’s Right to Counsel and Education. To view the dynamic plenary sessions from the summit, click on the below links:



The School to Prison Pipeline: Is it a Human Rights violation?

At the summit on October 23, 2009, the Children’s Rights Litigation Committee sponsored an unprecedented event: a Socratic Dialogue—a forum that encompassed a round table discussion on the School-to-Prison Pipeline. The dialogue used fundamental human rights principles to incite critical thinking about the ethics and policies surrounding education, school pushout, the criminalization of student behaviors, and the need to enshrine education as a human right.


What Children’s Lawyers Need to Know about Mandatory Drug Testing

This complimentary taped teleconference that was held on March 16, 2010 is focused on what children’s lawyers need to know about mandatory drug testing.  Drug testing has been expanded recently in delinquency cases, where it is often a condition of probation even if the child was not charged with a drug offense and in education cases with athletics and to monitor kids in school. This drug testing opens the door to more law enforcement.  Lawyers need to know how to advocate for their clients around this challenging and pervasive issue.  The expert faculty discusses the policy implications of mandatory drug testing, including in the context of juvenile drug court.  


Fostering Connection to Success Act: Moving from Act to Action

The Fostering Connections to Success Act, H.R. 6893, was signed into law on October 7, 2008 and will become effective over the course of the next two fiscal years. The Act puts into place some of the most sweeping federal foster care reforms in over a decade. This program will examine the sections of the Act that will impact the work of judges and lawyers for children. The new law will open the door to federal support for youth through the age of 21, ending the trend, in many states, to push youth out of foster care at the ill-prepared age of 18.


Preparing for the Challenges of Child Witnesses

In this complementary taped teleconference, an expert panel discusses the challenges of working with child witnesses in a variety of cases. Experts on this audio program will outline the major issues that must be addressed at the beginning of the representation, before trial, and in court in order to prepare a child (both a young children and adolescents) to be a witness; identify the ways a lawyer can prepare a court or jury for issues unique to child witnesses; teach listeners how to identify competency issues in child witnesses; discuss the importance of age-appropriate language and limits of language when examining a child witness in court; and teach listeners how to plan accommodations for child witnesses, opening statements, and the use of physical tools.


Child Clients Are Different: Best Practices for Representing Unaccompanied Minors

In this complimentary taped teleconference, an expert panel discusses the challenges inherent in the representation of unaccompanied children in immigration proceedings. Approximately 8,000 children come to the United States each year without parents or family after fleeing their home countries due to the violence they witness or experience. Many have suffered persecution because of their gender, religion, or political opinions. These children must face a government lawyer in an adversarial immigration hearing before a judge, though they may not even speak English. Their attorneys are their only assistants.

Topics of this program include cross-cultural and language issues when interviewing children and preparing them to testify; difficulties in obtaining corroborating evidence; how to use experts; and best trial practices.


Interviewing and Counseling a Child Client

In this program faculty discuss how the age, the level of development, the language proficiency and the life experience of the child might impact on what the lawyer needs to do to develop a trusting relationship with their client. They also explore effective techniques for interviewing and counseling children, giving practical advice on the settings, word usages, explanations, questioning techniques and questions that will help the lawyer to communicate clearly and comfortably with the child client. In addition to accompanying written materials the program also provides links to relevant websites.


Successful Strategies for Representing Child Sex Offenders

The outcome of a juvenile sex offender case can have a major impact on the life of the child. Yet, despite the high impact and the complexity of their work, there is almost no training for those who represent juvenile sex offenders. The Children’s Rights Litigation Committee of the ABA Section of Litigation, the National Juvenile Defender Center, and ABA-CLE are presenting this teleconference to provide education on effective strategies for successful representation.


Roper v. Simmons Teleconference

How will this case change practice in the courtroom?

Take our online, 90-minute audio course on the Supreme Court’s landmark Roper decision. This online course examines outcomes from Roper v. Simmons, including how this case will affect juveniles who are charged with significant sentences, how the Supreme Court’s reasoning in Roper affects what defenders can do, and the confirmation that children and adults are different.


Reception for the Release of the Report on the Legal Needs of Harris County Children

On November 11, 2004 the Children’s Rights Litigation Committee officially released the Report on the Legal Needs of Harris County Children at a reception at the law firm of Susman and Godfrey. Rocky Robinson, President of the Houston Bar, officially welcomed everyone to the reception, and attendees also heard from Scott Atlas, former chair of the Section of Litigation, Angela Vigil, Working Group Member of the Committee, and J.C. a 14 year old boy who described the difference a lawyer made in his life. Geoffrey Vitt, Co-Chair of the Committee then presented engraved bowls to the ten firms that assisted with the Report.


Training the Lawyer to Represent the Whole Child

The Children’s Rights Litigation Committee and NITA have put together a groundbreaking national training for children's lawyers, Training the Lawyer to Represent the Whole Child, that offers a unique opportunity for children's lawyers to focus both on courtroom skills and on substantive interdisciplinary issues that affect children involved with the legal system.

In order to effectively represent the needs of children, lawyers must be able to interview child clients, counsel their clients, negotiate on behalf of the child and represent the child's interests in a wide variety of hearings and court procedures. Additionally child clients are affected by a variety of interdisciplinary issues that attorneys who represent them must be aware of such as special education, homelessness, expulsion, physical and mental health, benefits and immigration.

In order to foster the distinctive skills of children' lawyers, NITA and the Children’s Rights Litigation Committee put together this exceptional six day training, along with support from the Juvenile Law Center, Loyola University School of Law, the National Association of Counsel for Children, Northwestern University School of Law, the Rocky Mountain Children's Law Center and the Support Center for Child Advocates. The outstanding materials were authored by Diane Geraghty of Loyola, and Tom Geraghty of the Bluhm Legal Clinic at Northwestern, and Angela Vigil of Baker and McKenzie. This training has been offered in Philadelphia and New York, and can be offered at other sites around the country. For more information contact our committee director, Catherine Krebs.