Children & Youth Justice

Because children are not the same as adults

The Children & Youth Justice (CYJ) Unit ensures that the legal rights of children are protected and respected at every phase of the criminal justice process. As an organization, we recognize that children in the criminal justice system are different from adults and that they should be represented accordingly.

CYJ’s specially trained, multidisciplinary team of professionals work together to address the legal challenges and provide holistic representation.

Supporting Our Clients, Educating Our Community

Children and Youth Justice Social Services helps to educate and inform our clients and communities. All information shared with the Defender remains confidential and is only used to put together the best possible best legal defense.

The purpose of social is to connect our clients to community supports and our advocates are here to help you. We are here to help you navigate through your court proceedings and be a support system during challenges you might be facing in your personal life.

Blended Practices

The Children and Youth Justice Unit has a social work practice nested within our legal practice. Our social workers/advocates work together with attorneys to arrive at the best legal solution recognizing the need for social services to facilitate appropriate support as youth learn to navigate a complex legal system.

Our social work practice’s guiding principles are:

  • Prioritizing our client’s humanity holistically throughout their contact with a broken criminal legal system
  • Eliminating barriers to client’s success while creating barriers for those systems that oppress them; and
  • Supporting clients and communities in elevating their voices in self advocacy

Our Approach to Advocacy & Education around the Juvenile Act and Family Court History

We believe that educating children early is a critical factor in preventing them from contact with the criminal justice system. Educating children about their rights in the criminal justice system is crucial, especially when they are at higher risk of getting in contact with the enforcement officers.

To that end, we aim to educate the community about the history of the Juvenile Act, the history of Philadelphia’s Family Court System, Landmark Legislation that impacts our work, and much more. 

Connecting Every Corner

We seek to improve Philadelphia holistically—from street corners to corner offices.

The CYJ Unit has a legacy of pushing forward advocacy that improves conditions for youth ensnared in the criminal legal system. Our advocacy has focused on addressing the criminalization of poverty, mental illness, disproportionate minority contact, conditions of confinement, and more.

We have dedicated staff that focus on policy issues within the criminal legal system, particularly as it pertains to juvenile justice. We not only work to develop commonsense programming that benefits our clients, but also advocate to change policies that oppress our clients and our Philadelphia community.

Community Lawyering is an essential part of the community outreach and advocacy practiced by the Children & Youth Justice Unit. The most significant part of community lawyering is meeting our clients where they are. Our clients can be found on street corners, back blocks, barber shops, bars, “bandos” (abandoned houses), and most places in our communities not frequently visited by attorneys or legal professionals.

The Defender has developed several programs that take the Defender into the community. Click the boxes below to learn more about our community outreach initiatives. 

Shop Talk is a community outreach initiative used to bring Defender Association of Philadelphia, Children & Youth Justice Unit programming to the community through collaboration with a coalition and network of barbershops in the city of Philadelphia. The Children & Youth Justice Unit has determined that there is an already existing network of barbershops in the community that are owned by credible community leaders, who have invited the Children & Youth Justice Unit in, which allows the Children & Youth Justice Unit to bring programming to the community in a way that the community can be receptive and trusting of the information and programming provided.

Shop-Talk includes but is not limited to conducting expungements, introducing attendees to Philly’s Participatory Defense Hubs, and Community Office Hours. Learn more about Shop Talk here.

Community Lawyering is an essential part of the community outreach and advocacy practiced by the Children & Youth Justice Unit. The most significant part of community lawyering is meeting our clients where they are. Our clients can be found on street corners, back blocks, barber shops, bars, the trap (open air drug markets), “bandos” (abandoned houses), and most places in our communities not frequently visited by attorneys or legal professionals.

The Defender has developed several programs that take the Defender into the community: Shoptalk, Freedom Fund, Drop-In Services, Community Office Hours, Screening Events, and Expungement Clinics. These programs allow and encourages the Defender to meet clients where they are, in what to our clients are “safe spaces.”

The purpose of NO CAP is to identify youth, who are being released from placement, or who’s supervision is being terminated, develop a comprehensive plan of action based on the needs of the young person as expressed by the young person during an initial assessment, and make referrals to community based organizations that provide support in all of the areas that our client has requested support in.

Here’s a list of community partners providing services and resources offered to our youth.

  • Community Partners
    • Artist First Records – Melody Forester, Esq. Manager Digable Planets
    • Childhoods Lost Entertainment – Kaliek Hayes, Founder/CEO
    • Clutch Workouts – Charles “Clutch” Cutts, Founder
    • Dreams & Opportunities after Mistakes – Dominic Speech, Mentor/Founder
    • Gunz Down Glovez Up – Dwayne Fletcher, Founder
    • Just Leadership USA – Jeffrey Coles, Phila Campaign Organizer
    • Money Mindz – Stephen Rawls, CEO/Owner
    • Mothers In Charge – Steve Austin, Facilitator
    • OIC-SOAR – Gina Mattaliano, Senior Program Manager for Reentry Services
    • PAR-Recycle Works – Maurice “Q”, Owner
    • PAAN – Malika Lovelace, YVRP Street Worker Advocate
    • Power Corps PHL – Adrian McGill, Asst Dir of Supportive Services
    • Leaders In Training Sports Mentoring Program – Eugene Pough, Founder
    • Valley Youth House – Alyssa Weinfurtner, MSW, Supervisor-Emergency Svcs
    • Village Arts – Brittany Holiday, Dir of Youth & Young Adult Programs
    • Youth Empowerment for Advancement Hangout – Kendra Van de Water, Co-Founder/CEO, James Aye, Co-Founder

Juvenile Record Expungements

Expungement request are the primary request from our Philadelphia community. At every community event we attend we offer one-on-one expungement clinics with our staff attorneys. In 2019 alone, we filed 405 new expungement petitions and saw 438 of our petitions granted by the courts. 

If you have questions about an expungement you can call us at 267-765-6770 or email us at jforte@philadefender.org

Learn more about juvenile record expungements here. 

INTERESTED IN LEARNING MORE?

Contact One Of Our Unit Leaders

Michael Sontchi, Unit Chief
Jesse Smith, Deputy Chief
Chantelle Silverio, CYJ Social Services

Department Head