Supporting Youth Court Attendance

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Colorado Office of the Child's Representative
Colorado statute mandates that the court consult with youth 12 and older regarding his or her permanency plan.[1]  However, best practice recommendations state that children of all ages should be included in all types of Dependency and Neglect (D&N) proceedings. The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) emphasizes that children of any age should be provided an opportunity to attend court.  The policy includes a caveat for judicial officers to reasonably determine that attendance is inappropriate on a case-by-case basis where safety, maturity, or other practical concerns exist.[2]   Further, the American Bar Association suggests that, more often than not, it is appropriate for children to be present during “significant court hearings,” asserting that children have a right to “meaningful participation” in their cases.[3]
A 2014 survey of 250 Colorado stakeholders  revealed that 86% of respondents believe that there are invaluable benefits to youth attendance in court.[4] The survey showed that Colorado professionals believe that the number one benefit of youth attendance in court is “empowerment” because youth attendance gives children an opportunity to self-advocate and and allows them to have a voice in their future.
“The strongest advocate you’re ever going to have is yourself. You have to learn to advocate for yourself and find people who can help you.”
- 21 year old Colorado Youth Emancipated from Foster Care
Many children in foster care have experienced a lack of control in their lives due to child maltreatment and life experiences when placed in out of home care. When children are placed in foster care, decisions that fundamentally determine the course of their lives are made by professionals, often times outside of the youth’s presence, while children’s abilities to make decisions regarding their own lives are constrained.[5]
“We grow up thinking that everyone is against us – that’s the way we’re treated as kids; it’s the way we think of ourselves.”
- 17 year old Colorado Youth in Foster Care
Youth participation in D&N proceedings, specifically court attendance, is extremely beneficial to youth.
By PARTICIPATING in Hearings...
Youth gain a better understanding of what is happening to them, how decisions impact them, and why decisions are made when they participate in the proceedings.[6]
The court may validate the youth’s position, providing them with a sense of appreciation and self-worth.[7]
Youth begin to feel like collaborators of influence[8] and feelings of helplessness are reduced.[9]  
Youth gain the valuable skill of self-advocacy by participating in proceedings.[10]
Youth participation in court proceedings provides benefits to the court as well.
“It feels like we’re doing a good job, until we hear about the job that we’re doing.”
- Colorado 2nd Judicial District Judicial Officer
Seeing a child or young person puts a face to the file and can help decision makers and participants remember who is being impacted by the case.[11]  Furthermore, when children are consulted in an age-appropriate manner, they “are more invested in the process” and demonstrate better compliance and commitment to achieving desirable outcomes.[12]  Moreover, if the court has lingering questions, the judge can ask them directly of the child, obtaining answers from the source.[13]
Even though research indicates that youth attendance in court is extremely beneficial, and Colorado stakeholders acknowledge its value, in fiscal year 2013, only 40.65% of children age 12 and older attended their permanency planning hearings.[14]
1) See C.R.S. §§ 19-3-702(2), (3.7) (stating that the court is obligated to “consult” with any youth 12 or older in an “age appropriate manner” regarding his or her permanency plan). 2) See ELIZABETH WHITNEY BARNES ET AL., NAT'L COUNCIL OF JUVENILE AND FAMILY COURT JUDGES, SEEN, HEARD, AND ENGAGED: CHILDREN IN DEPENDENCY COURT HEARINGS (2012).
 3) See AM. BAR ASS'N, STANDARDS OF PRACTICE FOR LAWYERS WHO REPRESENT CHILDREN IN ABUSE AND NEGLECT CASES, 11 (1996), available at 4) Stakeholders included GALs, county attorneys, respondent parents’ counsel, CASA volunteers, judicial officers, caseworkers, and court staff. 5) See Andrea Khoury, Seen and Heard: Involving Children in Dependency Court, 25 CHILD L. PRAC. 145, 150 (2006). 6) Id. 7) See Jaclyn Jean Jenkins, Listen to Me! Empowering Youth and Courts through Increased Youth Participation in Dependency Hearings, 46 FAM. CT. REV 163, 168 (2008).
 8) See Khoury, supra note 5, at 150. 9) Judy Cashmore, Children’s participation in family law decision-making: Theoretical approaches to understanding children’s views, CHILDREN AND YOUTH SERVS. REVIEW, Apr. 2011 at 515, 517. 10) See Jenkins, supra note 7, at 169. 11) Id.  at 170. 12) Id. 13) Id. Direct contact between the court and child may have the added benefit of providing checks-and-balances to ensure that reported information accurately reflects the circumstances. Id. at 151. 14) CARES reports