A voice for troubled youth
Main Page Content
A University of Iowa law student has developed a new program that gives a voice to kids from troubled families caught in multiple prongs of the justice system.
“Everyone involved in the juvenile system always wants to do what’s in the child’s best interest, but the child still doesn’t have a voice,” says Hasti Barahmand, a third-year Iowa law student. “There’s this population of youth that doesn’t have anyone to advocate for them right now. There’s nobody looking out for them.”
Barahmand’s program will be implemented this summer in Miami-Dade County, Florida. She’ll be working for Florida’s Children First, a public policy organization that advocates for children’s issues, and the Miami Public Defender’s Office. She’s also being sponsored by the Florida Bar Foundation and the Miami office of the law firm Greenberg Traurig.
Barahmand will focus on helping juveniles between the ages of 13 to 18 who are in “dual jurisdiction.” That means they face criminal charges in juvenile court and are in deteriorating family situations that require action by the family court. Most of the children in delinquency proceedings are simultaneously in the foster care system and when they “age out” at 18, they have no support structure in the “adult” world, she says.
Barahmand will act as a liaison for a teenager in the court system, who often has little understanding of the process or what’s happening to them.
She’ll go beyond the courtroom, too, working with schools to get her clients’ education back on track and whatever social service agencies might be able to help, creating a holistic approach to serving their legal and family needs. She hopes that work can show her clients how to live a better life.
“I want to get them out and about, show them there are goals to work for in life and broaden their horizons,” she says.
Barahmand knew when she came to the UI law school from UCLA that she wanted to pursue a career helping juveniles in the legal system. She spent her summers working with a youth services agency in Los Angeles and a public advocacy organization in Washington, D.C. This year, she worked for a program in the law school’s legal clinic representing parents of low-income families who are at risk of losing their children through parental termination proceedings.
“We tend to vilify parents in these cases, but it’s important to see it from their perspective if you’re going to work with children,” she says.
Exactly how many minors are caught in two parts of the justice system is unknown because nobody’s ever kept statistics, so part of her job will be to research numbers to determine a population.
“When we talk to lawyers and judges, they tell us it’s a situation they see fairly often,” she says. She expects to start with a caseload of three to six clients and gradually work up to 12 to 15 during the two years of her project.
At the end of the two years, she hopes to have a set of best practices that can be used to set up similar programs across Florida and the rest of the country. To help support her innovative, the Equal Justice Program awarded Barahmand a two-year Equal Justice Works Fellowship that provides a salary and loan repayment assistance for new lawyers who have developed new and innovative legal projects that can improve lives and serve communities in desperate need of legal assistance.
“It’s important for this program to make sure the child feels like they’re being listened to,” Barahmand says.