Need for Specialized Training
In order for juvenile defense attorneys to provide competent client-directed advocacy, they must have specialized knowledge in multiple disciplines including:
- youth development
- specific juvenile laws and processes
- child welfare
- mental and behavioral health
A youth’s attorney ensures that his or her voice is heard in court, and therefore they must have the skills to effectively communicate with their client and zealously advocate for their stated interest.
A 2009-10 assessment of juvenile legal defense in Nebraska funded by the Nebraska legislature and conducted by the National Juvenile Defender Center observed that although there were examples of model practices and effective advocacy, there were also several significant systemic problems. In particular, the evaluators found that in many instances effective juvenile defense was compromised by:
- attorney role confusion
- lack of zealous advocacy
- excessive guilty pleas
In regards to juvenile defense trainings, there was a considerable gap between interest (high interest) and availability (low availability) for most juvenile defender related topics.
In addition, the 2014-15 Annual Report of the Office of Inspector General of Nebraska General Welfare identified two major concerns with attorney representation in juvenile court. First, there was a concern with a youth’s access to counsel and excessive waivers of legal counsel. Second, the report indicated a need for practice standards in juvenile court to help combat the trend wherein, the most inexperienced attorneys are representing our most vulnerable populations. In order for juvenile court to succeed in its rehabilitative purpose there must be strong legal advocacy for system-involved youth.