Friday, June 20, 2008

National Conference on Homeless Youth and the Law

The American Bar Association Commission on Homelessness and Poverty, American Bar Association Commission on Youth at Risk, and the National Network for Youth, in collaboration with Casey Family Programs, are wrapping up a two-day working conference -- the National Conference on Homeless Youth and the Law, June 19-20, 2008, at the University of Washington School of Law.

Why here? (Why not here?) One reason to gather the participants here is the strong leadership from two local attorneys (and UW alumni): Casey Trupin, who founded Street Youth Legal Advocates of Washington when he was a law student and went on to work on issues of homeless youth at Columbia Legal Services, is the chair of the ABA Commission on Homele and Poverty. And Bobbe J. Bridge, who just retired from the Supreme Court bench and is the founder and President of the Center for Children & Youth Justice, chaired the advisory committee for the conference.

The conference received support from the Seattle University School of Law, the University of Washington School of Law, the William H. Gates Public Service Law Program, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Garvey Schubert Barer, Ron and Janice Perey, and the Perey Law Group. Students from SYLAW helped with the conference -- e.g., taking minutes in the working groups.

Right now, I'm listening to representatives from breakout groups on different issues present recommendations -- the seeds of model laws or administrative action. For instance, some issues:

  • Out the outset, drafters should consider definitions. What's "youth"? What's "homeless"? In come contexts, "youth" might include anyone up to age 24; in other contexts, it might only need to be 18. And how young do you want to start some programs?
  • What should happen to youth involved in status offenses? (These are offenses that, by definition, cannot be committed by adults). The speaker recommends that options (such as safe houses and treatment programs) should be developed so the youth are not sent to secure juvenile detention facilities as a first resort. Police and other first responders should receive training in how to deal with the special needs of these youth.

  • What are the barriers to homeless youth (and, more generally, youth in unstable housing situations, such as foster care) attending school? What can be done to make schooling available to and effective for them? Is there a way to make educational funding follow them as they move?

  • What are the issues concerning health care? When should a minor be able to give consent to treatment? For what procedures? From which practitioners? (The speaker recommends that it not be restricted to doctors.)

  • What housing issues arise? Consider the right to enter into contracts -- maybe the law should be changed to allow at least some minor to enter into leases. (It's probably a good idea, the speaker says, to have many contracts by minors still be voidable.)

  • What about emancipation? The speaker raises the possibility of partial emancipation -- e.g., a teen could be responsible for her own shelter but the parents would still be liable for medical benefits. Also: only the young person should have the ability to petition to emancipation (the parents shouldn't be able to go to court and say, in effect, "I'm tired of being responsible for my child.").

  • The family law group looked at non-parental custody of the youth; the youth as parents; domestic violence and access to protective orders. Minors should be able to get protective orders against parents and parents' partners. The group would also like to expand the definition of "dating" to increase access to protective orders. What mechanism should be used for a youth to get a protective order against a parent without going through child protective services? (Don't want to set up a process that actually increases youth homelessness.) What would make youth able to get their protective orders enforced when they have a lot of distrust for the police (and might have records or outstanding warrants)?
  • Other issues:
    • Income assistance
    • Right to counsel
    • Possible changes in foster care system
    • Problems of youth aging out of foster care system or leaving juvenile justice system without good support from family or community.
    • Problems of homeless immigrant youth. Another problem: youth who are U.S. citizens but whose parents are deported.
    • Problems of homeless youth who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ).
One theme that runs through all the issues is the need for coordination among different agencies -- e.g., shelters, mental health services, schools, substance abuse programs, law enforcement, and the courts.

No comments: