When the COVID crisis hit the United States, Juvenile Law Center sprang into action. We know from decades of experience that youth in the child welfare and justice systems are particularly vulnerable because they are in the shadows. During a pandemic, that can have dire — even deadly — consequences.
We quickly sought emergency relief from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to safely release youth back to their communities. The Court denied our petition, but directed all counties to ensure that the risks of the pandemic are considered in juvenile court cases. To date, approximately 100 youth have been released — not nearly enough, so we are pursuing other legal remedies. Advocates nationwide are adapting our pleadings and arguments in Alabama, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Louisiana, Texas, Wisconsin and Maryland — and the list keeps growing. We continue to advocate for better data, push for policy change, and speak out in the press to document the risks and isolation children face in state care, far from family and community. We will not stop so long as children are locked in facilities that are breeding grounds for COVID.
We are also fighting for youth in the child welfare system, especially older youth who face particular hardships during this public health crisis. Some have been pushed out of college and forced into homelessness. Many youth face serious health risks in group care, with obstacles to social distancing and limited information from caseworkers. Some young people fear aging out of care during this crisis, unable to meet their basic needs and without a support system. We created advocacy toolkits to support both individuals and systemic responses. We are working with state advocates for reform through executive and administrative orders. We are leading a national coalition working to ensure that the next COVID Congressional package provides relief for older youth. We are also assisting attorneys in Pennsylvania in their representation of children during this pandemic.
While the COVID pandemic is a public health crisis, it is also creating an economic crisis. With our partners, we issued a call for a nationwide moratorium on juvenile justice fees and fines, signed by over 130 organizations. We are currently advocating for implementation of the moratorium in Florida, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.
With each passing day of this pandemic, our youth — predominantly youth of color — are on the front lines and in harm’s way. We will not stop fighting for their rights, dignity, equity and opportunity — but we cannot do it alone.
We know that COVID has hit all of us hard. We ask you to consider contributing to stand with young people at the greatest risk in this crisis. Your support allows us to fight harder as needed, where needed. Please donate today to our newly launched COVID Response Fund. Let young people know they aren’t facing this alone.