20 Years of TeamChild – Looking back to look ahead

Minding my own business. I’d been a legal aid lawyer for about 5 years when I got the call from the legendary, Pat Arthur. Pat was the Director of the Institutions Project of Evergreen Legal Services – legendary because she went head to head with Washington’s prisons, championing and winning case after case to secure humane treatment, health care, and education for men, women and children incarcerated in our state. She and Simmie Baer, the fierce and passionate leader of the Juvenile Division of The Seattle King County Defender Association, had a radical idea. Tired of seeing hundreds of kids churning through juvenile court and detention every year, mostly for minor offenses, they wanted to give kids a team of lawyers and advocates who would fight for their rights to all the things that they needed to be successful and to ultimately stay out of juvenile court: education, a safe place to live, medical and mental health care for their overall well-being, and connection to family and community. I got the call because I had been exploring ways in which legal aid attorneys could advance the education rights of children. Pat and Simmie needed someone to provide education law training to Elizabeth Calvin, the new director of the new project. Two years later, I moved to Seattle to take a staff attorney job with TeamChild. It’s hard to believe that was 20 years ago. #powertothefounders

Not Rocket Science. TeamChild steps up to plate for young peopleThe concept behind TeamChild is not rocket science, but in 1997, it was cutting edge. It intentionally broke through the service delivery silos of civil legal aid and public defense. We confronted the obstacles teenagers faced and took action to get to the root of why they were getting into trouble with the law. Our clients shared their strengths and hopes, and we stood by them during the toughest of times. As lawyers, we made sure that the education, health care, and other child serving systems provided the services they were created deliver. Shoring up community supports in a holistic way gave courts more options; and our clients stayed out of jail and got more chances to be diverted from juvenile court involvement altogether. #standingwithyouth

Does it work? Yes, doing what it takes for youth gets great results. TeamChild’s legal advocacy produces greater connections to education, housing, health care and other supports, and that results in fewer juvenile justice contacts. Our most recent evaluation found that juvenile court contacts are cut in half for youth that get TeamChild’s legal representation. Meeting basic needs is common sense; keeping kids out of the justice system makes economic sense – for every dollar spent on TeamChild, taxpayers save $2.

Scaling Our Impact. Pat, Simmie, and Elizabeth planted the seeds for TeamChild, and thanks to countless supporters and partnerships over the years, we have been able to provide critical legal advocacy for over 14,000 young people across the state. We are committed to expanding our capacity to meet the legal needs of youth who are at highest risk for entanglement in the juvenile and criminal justice system. At the same time, we recognize that working with youth one by one is not enough. Although school exclusions and juvenile justice numbers have declined dramatically, our state still has over 16,000 juvenile detention admissions a year and more than 40,000 suspensions and expulsions from school. And, system reform efforts to date have not been able to reduce the alarming disparities across race, disability and income. The number and rates of youth incarceration and exclusionary discipline are glaring indicators of our failure to support children. So, we have set our sights on dramatically cutting the number and rates of incarceration and school exclusions. We’re building our policy and training programs and strengthening our community partnerships in order to dismantle the pipelines that push youth into the justice system and replace outdated and punitive strategies. We can’t do this work alone, and urge you to join our efforts. We need partners of all sorts — passionate visionaries, worker bees, investors, and innovators. We look forward to hearing from you! #buildingamovement, #zeroincarceration, #youthfirst

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