Juvenile Issues


Texas Primary Custody
The Texas Family Code is clear that children and youth must attend permanency review hearings, and places additional duties on attorneys ad litem, judges, and the child welfare agency to meet with children in advance of court hearings.  Despite many improvements over the past several years, Texas courts still do not consistently engage youth in meaningful participation in the court process. Ensuring that youth voice is heard and considered continues to be a challenge.  This lack of youth involvement results in foster youth feeling disconnected from the process, and judges not reaping the benefit of their input. Q:  What does the law require? A:  Chapter 263 of the Texas Family Code mandates that all children who are in the conservatorship of DFPS attend all permanency hearings.  Specifically, Section 263.302 states that the child shall attend each permanency hearing, unless the court specifically excuses the child’s attendance, and that the court shall consult with the child in a developmentally appropriate manner regarding the child’s permanency plan, if the child is four years of age or older and the court determines it is in the best interest of the child. Q:  Are there any exceptions to 263.302? A:  Yes, the judge can make an individual determination that excuses that child from attending a specific hearing. However, issuing a blanket order excusing a specific child or all children from attending permanency hearings, is not considered best practice. Q:  Why isn’t it sufficient for me to speak for my client since I am his/her legal representative? A:  There have been many studies by the ABA as well as Court Improvement Programs around the country on this singular issue, all with similar findings that foster youth repeatedly express the desire to be involved in decisions about their lives.  Youth involvement contributes to the young person’s […]

The Importance of Youth Voice in Court Proceedings


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I was reading an article today by Lana Shadwick. In it, she details a situation where a 13 year old boy is attempting to utilize social media to speak out about potential abuse that occurred at a foster home. His attempts to speak out are ultimately shut down by the judge in the case for unclear, but one might assume, confidentiality reasons. The full article can be read here, and it is fairly graphic in its detailing of some rather serious abuse allegations, so if that is something that would trigger you, please be aware before viewing it. My number one problem with this particular case (well maybe number 2 after some pretty horrible abuse) is that presumably the reason that there are such strict laws about confidentiality in these cases is to protect children, whereas in this situation all they seem to be accomplishing is stifling the free speech of a child without a clear argument to how it protects children. For the most part, in the CPS process, the protection of children is treated as the goal, and the children themselves largely just as objects to be protected. There is a certain necessity to this idea, but at the same time, there should be some common sense and rationality when applying standards. All information about a child in these cases is confidential (presumably to protect the child), but unlike confidentiality as it pertains to adults, there is no mechanism for a child to waive is due to the idea that a child can’t properly consent to such a thing (which is probably as it should be). However, even if you take the somewhat rational stance that a 13 year old does not have the capacity to protect his or her own best interests and thus can’t waive confidentiality, the courts and the process […]

Free Speech vs. Confidentiality: Is it time to extend free speech protections to children?



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There is always somewhat of a disconnect between lawmakers, prosecutors, judges, and modern society. Nowhere has that been more apparent to me than the recent case where a Texas child who is currently in jail faces an eight year prison sentence because of a threatening joke in an online game. Two things stand out here. First of which is the lesson for young people (or even old people!) that while you may feel like you are escaping reality while playing online, reality has a way of finding you. The online world is becoming increasingly LESS anonymous, and that trend is likely to continue. While the internet used to be a haven for free speech (even dangerous and vile free speech), the increasing ease of tracking people online has caused an increase in prosecutions for crimes committed in the online world. In this situation, the term “crime” is somewhat loosely applied, but it has applicability to other areas as well, and it is important for EVERYONE to be mindful of their actions. The second thing is more obvious, and that is another example of overzealous prosecution. I am assuming (perhaps wrongly) that the reason this is being pursued is the borderline hysteria over school shootings, however, the context of these things needs to be considered. If you subpoenaed a chat log of a single day of chat for this particular game, you would likely find MANY incidences of even more vile and threatening things being said. Either we determine as a society that ALL of these incidences are worthy of jailing people, or none of them. The idea of selectively prosecuting things like this is completely arbitrary at best, and malicious at worst, and leaving those decisions up to prosecutors seems like a recipe for disaster, when clearly the prosecutors in this […]

A Child’s Right to Free Speech On the Internet