The Juvenile Rights Practice represents 90 percent of the children who appear before the Family Court in New York City on child protective, termination of parental rights, PINS (person in need of supervision), and juvenile delinquency petitions. The Division was established concurrently with New York State's Family Court in 1962, five years before the U.S. Supreme Court rules in Gault that children have a constitutional right to counsel at government expense, and was one of the first organizations in this country to represent children in a juvenile court. Since then, the Juvenile Right Practice has grown into one of the nations' leading organizations in the field of child advocacy.
The role of Juvenile Rights attorneys acting as "law guardians" is to provide legal representation, express clients' wishes to the court, and safeguard the interests and legal rights of these clients. They are assigned by Family Court judges, and remain active through the original case and any supplemental proceedings, which frequently take place over a period of years. To enhance the quality and expand the scope of its advocacy, the Practice has developed several specialized units. The Juvenile Services Unit, the social work component, was formed as a result of the pioneering work of Juvenile Rights in teaming social workers with lawyers in order to adequately address the educational, social, and psychological issues that arise in Family Court proceedings. The Safe Families Project, PEAK (Providing Educational Assistance to Kids) and the Kathryn A. McDonald Education Advocacy Project provide specialized legal and social work assistance in domestic violence cases and those requiring educational advocacy. The Appeals Bureau, which represents clients throughout the appeals process, has literally "made the law" that governs juvenile court proceedings in New York. The Special Litigation Unit has initiated class action lawsuits and other litigation aimed at system-wide abuses within the juvenile justice, child welfare and educational systems.