On Monday, September 12, groups including First Focus, the Children’s Advocacy Institute, the National Association of Counsel for Children, and the American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law conducted a briefing on the need for greater and required legal protection for children across a number of legal systems.

The focus of the briefing included children involved with child welfare, children who are involved with the immigration systems including asylees and refugees, and children involved with the fifty state juvenile justice systems.

The issue of legal representation for this population could potentially effect over 400,000 children in foster care, over 41,000 children with cases pending in the immigration system (as of 2014), and more than 1 million children who were involved through delinquency state and federal courts.

The coalition and panel of speakers highlighted conditions whereby children and youth go without an attorney during some of their most vulnerable circumstances.  As part of the discussion speakers highlighted several bills that are pending or have been proposed.

Legislation or legislative proposals include amendments to the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) that would require legal representation for children.  Current requirements stop at requirements for Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs) and guardian ad litems.  Currently CAPTA is due for reauthorization but no proposed legislation has been offered and that law will not be reauthorized this year.

Other legislation flagged include the Fair Day in Court Act of 2016 (S 2540 and HR 4646) which would direct the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice to provide certain legal protections and information for immigrant populations in detention.  It would also require legal representation for unaccompanied minors to be provided by the Department of Justice.

The Secure the Northern Triangle (S 3106/HR 5850) is a multi-section bill that targets a strategy to reduce the number of immigrants and in particular unaccompanied minors crossing over from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.  The legislation offers several strategies to reduce the flow and the trafficking from those three countries and in a separate section requires legal representation for unaccompanied minors.

Discussion also focused on juvenile justice reform which is currently making some progress in Congress (see earlier article). Aside from the efforts to move a reauthorization of the JJDPA the other proposals will have to be a topic for the 115th Congress.