Legal Aid Society

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 legal 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.

SLLRU worked tirelessly to ensure passage of landmark legislation raising the lower age of juvenile delinquency in New York State.  As a result, starting in 2023, elementary school age children, including those as young as seven, will no longer be subject to handcuffing, arrest, detention and prosecution, unless charged with homicide.  Instead, children under 12 and their families will be provided with services, when needed, without subjecting children to the trauma of arrest and to a legal process they are unable to comprehend.  

SLLRU was instrumental in the passage of City Council legislation mandating the NYC Administration for Children’s Services to report on the prescription of psychotropic medication to children in foster care.  This data will allow NYC and the public at large to monitor prescribing practices for problematic patterns.  It is widely accepted that children in foster care are subject to the excessive and often inappropriate use of psychotropic medication, including multiple prescriptions for serious anti-psychotic medications, prescriptions to very young children, and the lack of monitoring of harmful side effects. 

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 increasing the number of available youth-specific shelter beds from 253 in 2013 to 753 beds at present. 

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.