Presentation on theme: "You have heard the other panelists describe risk factors, types of offenses and other variables faced by LGBT Youth in connection with homelessness and."— Presentation transcript:
You have heard the other panelists describe risk factors, types of offenses and other variables faced by LGBT Youth in connection with homelessness and juvenile justice. We don’t know specifically about an individual juvenile unless they self identify or are presented with the opportunity to discuss that in a safe space. I'm going to focus on what juvenile defenders should be doing to create that safe space LGBT kids need to disclose this type of information so that we can help our LGBT clients receive the services and support that they need.
It's important to realize that as defense attorneys for juveniles we have two jobs. One is the traditional role of advocating for the client's legal rights in connection with the underlying charge. In this instance, you would look for defenses in the case and either advocate for the client at trial or to obtain a suitable plea bargain. For example, you may get a conditional dismissal for the adult client and the case is now over. But for the juvenile client, just because you secured a diversion for the child doesn't mean your job is done.
The focus of the juvenile justice system is rehabilitative rather than punitive. In order to most effectively assist the juvenile in this regard, the appropriate services must be secured for him or her. You won't know what services the child needs unless you understand the motivation behind the conduct.
Many LGBT kids who come to us through the juvenile justice system are not "out" to their parents, friends or school or maybe don't even identify as LGBT. They are generally still exploring and developing their sexuality. So this complicates things for the juvenile defender who is trying to get appropriate services and/or placement for the child.
Your client is not likely to offer personal information. It's incumbent on you to ask. And even if you ask, the kid may not tell you the whole story or may even completely fabricate the information. That may happen if the child is scared and doesn't trust you. So it's important to build a rapport and create an environment while interviewing the child that he or she feels it's safe to be honest with you. This takes a little time. You want to explain to your client that he does have legal rights. Many kids think they don’t. You’ll want to explain that you’ll maintain confidentiality and advocate for him.
You will also want to find out as much about your young client as possible. This serves a dual purpose. Not only will the information assist you in developing legal defenses, but listening to your client will also help build that child’s trust in you, so that he doesn’t think you are just another adult who doesn’t understand them or care about them. Then he will be more likely to provide the information you need to know so you can identify the appropriate services and advocate for your client to receive housing, medical attention, counseling and the like.
There are things you can say to a child during your interview that will convey that you are an ally such as asking about the child's "girlfriend and/or boyfriend" thereby demonstrating that you are not presuming the client is straight. You may have to ask various questions in several different ways to get to the answer at the same time doing so in a non-threatening non- judgmental and non-interrogating manner.
You are likely to be thrown curve balls like the boy who talks about his "girlfriend" when all the while he is actually referring to his boyfriend. You have to listen carefully and read between the lines. You may never get a direct answer from the juvenile, but you may be able to elicit enough information to secure the appropriate services.
So what do you do with this information once you do have it? How do you secure appropriate services for your client if your client doesn't want certain information to become public? RPC 1.6 provides in part for all clients that "a lawyer shall not reveal information relating to representation of a client unless the client consents after consultation, except for disclosures that are impliedly authorized in order to carry out the representation…." While you may need to make disclosures to effectively represent the juvenile, you must make sure that your juvenile client is on board with any such disclosure.
You need to assess disclosing this type of information on a case by case basis because you don't want to do more harm than good. The child may not benefit from certain services if the child experiences other problems from being "outed." If you feel the child really would benefit from certain services and that for whatever reason there are professionals or the parents need to know what you know, it's important to discuss this with the child and explain what you want to do to help him or her and listen to and address that child's concerns and obtain his consent for the disclosure.
One of the major problems that LGBT youths face is lack of parental support. Sadly, we cannot always change a parent's mind or heart concerning the feelings they have about their LGBT child's sexuality, but we can try to educate them in hopes that they will come around.
What happens though when a kid is thrown out of the house because he's gay. You have heard the panelists before me speak about this very unfortunate and not so uncommon situation. The kid is then picked up for truancy because he's stopped coming to school or is arrested for shoplifting because he's hungry or trespassing because he's sleeping in an abandoned building. You've heard these described as "survival crimes.”
Again, it's important to understand the motive for the conduct so you can secure the right services. If you get this kid a period of adjustment and do nothing else, this kid is just going to end up re- offending. You need to go that extra step and help the child secure appropriate living arrangements if he is not going back to the parent's home and/or a therapist or other professional services.
You may also have a juvenile who is locked up in detention because the parents won't take him home or because he keeps running away because of a bad situation at home. If the child is going to be spending any time in detention awaiting an appropriate placement to a shelter or foster care, you need to make sure to keep the pressure on to get the child placed as quickly as possible and that while he or she is awaiting placement that he's properly housed and cared for in detention. An effeminate gay boy or Transgender girl who is incarcerated with a bunch of straight macho tough guys is going to be beaten up or maybe even sexually assaulted. There are also issues concerning medication for Transgender kids taking hormones, which can be medically detrimental to these kids if denied access to medication.
Some detention centers will place LGBT kids into medical units or in isolation allegedly "for their safety". Solitary confinement does not assure a juvenile's safety. In fact, there may be long lasting negative psychological effects from solitary confinement. My view is that the better practice is to have LGBT & Allies unit or a Safe Space unit where LGBT kids can be among other LGBT kids and allies. It is especially important to include allies because if a kid isn't "out" he can still be placed in that unit without having to come out. Also, a boy who appears effeminate or a girl who appears masculine may fair better in such a unit if they are being harassed because of their appearance even if they aren't LGBT.
So, the first step is creating that safe space so the child feels comfortable disclosing information to you. Then you can determine the type and level of services that kid may need and advocate for your client’s right to the appropriate services. There are some great resources in your materials and I would recommend the National Juvenile Defense Standards for more information on the defenders obligations to juvenile clients and practice standards. For information regarding specific services, I would suggest that some of our best resources are probation officers, prosecutors, case workers and social workers. And speaking of social workers, my wife, Kathryn Dixon, has a great list of resources.