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Projects, Units & Initiatives

Juvenile Rights Practice Special Litigation and Law Reform Unit

The Juvenile Rights Special Litigation and Law Reform Unit (SLLRU) addresses systemic issues affecting children in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems through impact litigation in State and federal courts, as well as policy and legislative advocacy. The SLLRU strives to achieve justice for NYC youth on myriad fronts, regularly commenting on proposed policies and regulations and testifying before the City Council and State Legislature. The Unit also engages in coalition-building, serving on several coalitions and committees with City and State agents and other advocates and stakeholders.

Our Impact

Over the years, SLLRU has made a significant impact in the lives of young New Yorkers. In 2010, for example, SLLRU filed two class action cases, G.B. v. Carrión et al. and D.B. v. Richter, that each brought about important change. In G.B., SLLRU, along with Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, successfully required the NYS Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) to install cameras, change its restraint and mental health policies and practices, and implement a quality assurance and improvement (QAI) program in several limited secure placement facilities. SLLRU then monitored OCFS’ compliance, interviewing youth in these facilities and ensuring the development of an impressive QAI program, with the benefit of a QAI expert. In D.B. v. Richter, SLLRU, along with Davis, Polk & Wardwell LLP, and Lawyers For Children, challenged the failure of the NYC Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) to ensure that youth aging out of foster care had stable housing and were not being discharged to homelessness. As a result of the D.B. settlement, ACS developed new policies extending the placement in foster care of some youth past the age of 21, increased training to its contract foster care agencies, developed new tracking practices, and took over supervision of youth discharged to independent living prior to their 21st birthday.

More recently, with the assistance of pro bono partner Cravath, Swaine & Moore, SLLRU has succeeded in forcing the NYPD to destroy an unlawful database of tens of thousands of juveniles’ fingerprints. SLLRU has also partnered with specialized units within The Legal Aid Society’s Civil Practice in cases involving runaway and homeless youth (C.W. v. City of New York) and youth seeking Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) (R.F.M. v. Nielsen).  Following the filing of C.W., SLLRU, Civil Law Reform, and pro bono partner Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP, succeeded in obtaining relief for NYC homeless youth, with the City more than doubling number of youth-specific shelter beds from 253 in 2013 to 636 in July 2018, and committing to a goal of 753 beds by the end of FY 2019.  In R.F.M., SLLRU, along with Latham & Watkins LLP and Civil Practice units, defeated federal efforts to unduly restrict the availability of Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, a pathway to citizenship, to young people ages 18-21. Thousands of young people in New York State stand to benefit as a result.

Learn more about our casework on The Legal Aid Society litigation docket.