Updated: Nov 9
I truly believe the best way to understand a community is to experience its environment and listen to its stories and concerns. Going to the 2023 Youth Defender Leadership Summit Conference hosted by The Gault Center from October 13-14, 2023, has helped me learn more about the juvenile defense advocacy community at the national level. Although there were defenders from all over the country, they all had something in common, the desire to connect with other professionals, the curiosity to seek answers to questions that prevent them from doing their job, and the helplessness of continuing to work in a system that doesn’t see children as children.
One of the most important aspects of the conference is the networking opportunities. Having a network promotes support among colleagues and that is what gets things done and fights against what prevents defenders from helping youth in need. I enjoyed the general sessions that included anecdotes from people who, like me, were not defenders, but in one way or another were involved in the system.
Another concept I liked were the spaces that allowed defenders to ask questions and share the most common problems in their state. It was interesting to hear that most of the concerns were the same, the conditions of the Youth Development Centers and the prejudices related to racial injustice. These children, for the most part, have many things playing against them including dysfunctional home environments, the stigma around the legal processes, and in many cases the lack of support from guardians, parents, or family members. Seeing the passion with which many speak about their work and hearing stories of pioneers who have contributed to life changes in thousands of children made the experience all worth it.
I thought there would not be a space for me to gain general information about the legal system and the problems that youth experience while going through their legal process. However, I was able to attend workshops that helped me think about storytelling strategies that can help me contribute to the change. I highly recommend public and private defenders to encourage their non-defender colleagues to attend and continue to learn important and relevant information about the juvenile legal system.
More than a conference it was the reunion of a community who needs safe spaces to share opinions and experiences. Juvenile defense is complex and forces professionals to develop wellness plans to properly cope with stress and stories they interact with every day. I loved hearing panelists promoting selfcare and encouraging defenders to rest if needed. It is extremely important to prioritize self-consciousness and having a healthy professional support system is definitely a positive asset.
If you’d like to contact The Gault Center, you may do so here.
⬇ UPCOMING TRAININGS ⬇