State Assessments

Examining youth defense systems across the country to safeguard children’s constitutional rights

The enforcement of children’s due process rights is intricately connected to the strength of a state’s youth defense delivery system. States are constitutionally mandated to ensure that children facing delinquency proceedings have access to a competent, meaningful, and zealous lawyer. The establishment and maintenance of a youth defense delivery system is a critical component of safeguarding children’s constitutional right to counsel. State practices in delivering youth defense services vary widely not only across the country but also across state borders. The Gault Center’s state assessments are an effort to better understand how children facing juvenile court experience their constitutional right to counsel by examining the delivery of youth defense in each state.

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What You Need To Know

Scope of Assessments

The assessments provide comprehensive examinations of the systemic and institutional components necessary to ensure that young people have high-quality legal representation. In addition to gathering general data and information about the structure of the youth defense system, assessments examine issues related to the timing of appointment of counsel, the frequency with which children waive their right to counsel and under what conditions they do so, resource allocation, attorney compensation, supervision and training, and access to investigators, experts, social workers, and support staff. Assessments also highlight promising approaches and innovative practices within the state and offer recommendations to improve areas where challenges are identified.

States Examined

To date, the Gault Center has conducted a total of 28 assessments. For each assessment, the Gault Center publishes a detailed report, including a set of findings and recommendations to improve areas where barriers and challenges to children’s access to counsel were identified. These reports are part of a nationwide effort to secure children’s constitutional right to counsel by improving the delivery of youth defense across the country.


Following the release of each assessment report, the Gault Center works closely with the state to assist with the implementation of our recommendations. In addition, defenders, judges, legislatures, bar associations, and others have acted to implement recommendations from their respective state assessments, significantly improving children’s meaningful access to counsel.