Law Day 2007 Challenges Lawyers to Support Youth
The path to adulthood is never easy. But while each of us can recount a few bumps and wrong turns along the way, for some children the pitfalls and obstacles become overwhelming.
Many children in our society are caught up in circumstances not of their making that can have a profoundly negative impact on them. Law Day 2007 — Liberty Under Law: Empowering Youth, Preserving Democracy — calls attention to these children, their interactions with the courts and what lawyers can do to guide their way.
Some children come into contact with the courts through actions or inactions of others. These are children caught in custody battles, or victims or abuse, violence or neglect. These young people need to be included in discussions of what might happen in court, and how the judge can help them address their personal or family problems.
Other children come into contact with the courts because they are status offenders or because they break the law. Often these young people are trying to solve problems with tools limited by their age.
It may make perfect sense to a child who is unprepared for a test to skip school. Without a person or structure that asks why, the young person may continue to make poor choices that lead to wrong turns and dead ends.
The Youth at Risk initiative of the American Bar Association is a year-long look at the reasons some children find their way while others wander aimlessly and still others become completely lost. The initiative also looks at the critical role that lawyer volunteerism plays in producing positive outcomes. Its goal is to learn how lawyers can make a difference in the lives of youth at risk.
At the end of the year, the ABA will publish a substantive report based on interviews and round-table discussions with lawyers, judges and social service leaders from around the country. We expect that there are specific junctures where actions by lawyers can guide these young people in the right direction.
You do not have to wait for our report to take positive action. For example, it is a known and unfortunate fact that the Cook County juvenile justice system is in disarray. Both those who work in the juvenile justice system and those who work outside it can step up and become advocates for youth, giving the Cook County juvenile system the focus on rehabilitation that it had in 1899 as the country’s first juvenile court.
Other volunteer opportunities are available as well. Mentoring programs, such as Girl Scouts, Big Brothers Big Sisters, or Boys and Girls Clubs of America, provide a way to offer guidance one child at a time.
We believe our Youth at Risk report will underscore the value of volunteers in the lives of troubled children. We believe your actions will point these young people in the right direction.
We believe that by taking action as lawyers, we can make every day Law Day for our nation’s youth.
This op-ed appeared first in The Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.