Youth, Rights & Justice attorneys are appointed by the court to represent children, youth, and parents involved in the foster care and juvenile justice systems. We believe in client-centered representation, and that the individuals we serve deserve to have their voices heard and their rights protected. We bring a trauma-informed lens to all of our work; seeking to promote resilience, dignity, and respect.
Because we are court-appointed, YRJ cannot accept outside referrals.
As public defenders, we understand the value of a second chance. In 2021, YRJ launched our Expunction Clinic for individuals with juvenile records. Expungement is the process of sealing or destroying court records. In Oregon, when youth have contact with law enforcement or the juvenile court, paper and electronic records are created. Information in these records is publicly available. Juvenile court records are treated the same as adult criminal court records for most collateral consequences, creating barriers that keep youth from becoming successful adults. Expunction is vital for people who have juvenile records and are looking for a clean slate and a fresh start.
YRJ’s online Expunction Clinic focuses on increasing access to expungement for individuals with juvenile records. This is a free service for individuals with records in Multnomah, Washington, and Clackamas Counties.
SchoolWorks ensures that foster children have an opportunity for educational success. By advocating for our clients within the school system, SchoolWorks attorneys make sure at-risk students are enrolled in school and receiving supports to address academic, emotional, and behavioral needs. By doing so, our clients can achieve improved attendance, academic achievement, and social/behavioral performance, which improve the chances for high school completion for foster children.
The relationship between the student and their lawyer is at the core of the SchoolWorks program. In every case, the young person guides the lawyer’s advocacy. Client-driven advocacy is a hallmark of the program and distinguishes SchoolWorks from private legal practice, where a lawyer represents the student’s parents. The result: SchoolWorks WORKS!
- 97.2% of children who lack school stability improve stability
- 95.2% of children who have behavioral challenges in school demonstrate improvements in behavior
- 97.2% of children who are academically behind demonstrate academic gains
In addition to our work with foster youth, we occasionally provide school advocacy for young people in the juvenile justice system who are most at risk– those facing school exclusion and those with a significant unmet need for special education services. One of the best ways to ensure young people who have made mistakes do not repeat those behaviors is to help them stay in school.
Because of YRJ’s unique position handling court-appointed cases, we see the same problems affecting family after family and child after child. Systemic injustice motivates us to take our advocacy to the legislature in support of statewide system reform. Significant legislative achievements include:
- Requiring court authorization or exigent circumstances before DHS can remove a child from parents. This brings Oregon in line with constitutional standard for removal. (HB 2843) (2019)
- Landmark juvenile justice reform, which eliminates automatically treating youth ages 15-17 as adults (YRJ was part of stakeholder coalition) (SB 1008) (2019)
- Allowing families to be reunified though reinstatement of parental rights (HB 4009) (2017)
- Requiring DHS to consider both relatives and those with long-term supportive relationships to adopt children from foster care (SB 741) (2015)
- Limiting the use of suspension and expulsion in elementary school (SB 553) (2015)
- Eliminating automatic lifetime sex offender registration for youth (HB 2320) (2015)
- Eliminating Oregon’s zero tolerance school expulsion policies (SB 2192) (2013)
- Creating a pathway for youth to obtain relief from Oregon’s lifetime sex offender registry (SB 408) (2011)
- Requiring DHS to prioritize placing foster children with their siblings and relatives (HB 414) (2007)
- Enabling relatives serving as foster parents to obtain financial assistance (SB 282) (2007)
- Promoting school stability for foster children (HB 3075) (2005)
By leveraging the power of the courts, YRJ has been successful in enacting system-wide change in Oregon. Our victories are wide reaching, some include; improving the health and safety of youth living in detention facilities, giving foster children the chance to live with relatives instead of stranger foster care, ensuring that students with disabilities receive education services they are entitled to, and imposing limits on the placement of foster children into hotels.