At National Conference, Children’s Rights Encourages Local Advocates to Join Reform Efforts

By CR Staff

Attorneys, advocates, social workers and others who work directly with children can play vital roles in reforming the government systems that too often fail them.

That was the message of Ira Lustbader, litigation director at national advocacy organization Children’s Rights, and his fellow panelists, during the closing discussion of the 38th National Child Welfare, Juvenile, and Family Law Conference. The event, hosted by the National Association of Counsel for Children (NACC), was recently held in Monterey, Calif.

“We need to inspire more professionals who work day in and day out with children to speak out when they see systemic problems like overloaded caseworkers or a lack of mental health services hurting kids,” Lustbader said. “Children’s Rights relies on local advocates to be our eyes and ears. Their contributions are critical to creating long-lasting reform.”

Lustbader was joined on the panel by representatives of the Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center, Columbia Legal Services of Washington state and the National Center for Youth Law of Oakland, Calif. The discussion, moderated by NACC Executive Director Kendall Marlowe, touched on recent efforts across the United States to make child welfare, juvenile justice and juvenile court systems more accountable and stop young people from being harmed by the very agencies charged with caring for and serving them.

Lustbader highlighted lessons learned from recent trials in federal class actions to improve foster care in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Texas. He also spoke about CR’s evolving efforts to be more targeted in its campaigns and to work in partnership with like-minded organizations on emerging issues.

The three-day conference drew more than 600 advocates from across the country, including those in the fields of medicine, mental health, social work, law enforcement and education. They took part in workshops on critical topics such as: psychotropic medications and foster care; child trafficking; serving transgender and gender non-conforming youth in child welfare and juvenile justice cases; expunging juvenile records; and advocating for youth in residential and correctional facilities.

“This conference has always been so valuable and educational,” Lustbader said. “Attendees leave feeling like they have a grasp on emerging matters in the field and a real motivation to take on heightened roles to advocate for our children.”