Resource Development Associates

LA Public Defender’s Holistic Approach to Juvenile Cases Proves Effective

Recently, RDA completed a comprehensive evaluation of an innovative program that connects justice-involved youth to both legal and social services. After more than 70 interviews and focus groups, case file reviews, and quasi-experimental statistical analyses, the final report found that the Los Angeles County Public Defender’s Client Assessment Recommendation and Evaluation (CARE) Project effectively reduces repeat contact with the juvenile justice system.

For nearly two decades, the Juvenile Division of the Public Defender’s Office has provided holistic legal representation and intervention for youth through CARE. As part of this program, youth work with their trial lawyers and paralegals while also accessing mental health and educational advocacy through in-house social workers and resource attorneys.

During the evaluation, several justice partners reported that CARE clients receive better community services and placements, which leads to more successful case outcomes. The collaboration between CARE and community partners not only helps clients access the services they require to be successful in life, but also reduces barriers to stabilization and prevents further involvement with the justice system. Given the success of the model to this point, CARE’s reach has started to expand. Recently, the Public Defender received a grant from Juvenile Justice Crime Prevention Act funds that will allow them to add six additional psychiatric social workers to CARE.

Judges interviewed for the report noted that when a plan for a client has been established by the CARE team, they often come to different legal decisions.

“I might be more comfortable with probation if I know we can get the youth into therapy. CARE helps lay the groundwork for that,” one judge said. “I also think CARE helps with the prosecutor, who is concerned with public safety and doesn’t want the youth to repeat their mistakes.”

In the final report, RDA recommended extending CARE services to all clients in the Juvenile Division. Other recommendations included:

  • Extending services beyond dispositions (sentencing), helping clients obtain access to mental health services and medical assistance and reenroll in school;
  • Providing ongoing training to all Public Defender attorneys about accessing and utilizing the CARE Project’s services; and
  • Enhancing data collection – researching and implementing a structured assessment tool for client screening, identifying needs, triaging, and referring clients to services

Ultimately, RDA found that if CARE can implement the recommendations listed above, it would be a very strong candidate for the additional research required to qualify it as a promising or best practice.

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