New Defenders

A young person “needs the assistance of counsel to cope with problems of law, to make skilled inquiry into the facts, to insist upon regularity of the proceedings, and to ascertain whether he has a defense and to prepare to submit it.”

-In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1, 36 (1967).

Legal Law concept - Open law book with a wooden judges gavel on table in a courtroom or law enforcement office. Copy space for text.

Welcome to the youth defense community! Your role is crucial to our mission to promote justice for all children by ensuring excellence in youth defense. The Gault Center exists to support youth defenders and advocates in efforts to advance youth rights and equity and ensure youth voice and perspectives are centered in the legal system. The Gault Center partners with public defenders, appointed counsel, law school clinical programs, non-profit law centers, and many others to protect the liberty interests of children in the juvenile legal system. We offer training and technical assistance, advocacy, networking and collaboration, community building, and strategic coordination to advance the legal interest of young people.

In this workwe believe that justice for all children requires counteracting the deeply rooted systemic biases that disproportionately impact Black, Latina and Latino, Asian, Native, Indigenous, LGBTQ+, and all youth who experience disparate treatment because of their race, ethnicity, or identity at every stage of the juvenile legal system. Our community pursues this goal by ensuring that youth defenders have the skills and resources necessary to combat racial injustice and discrimination while also expanding the number of youth defenders whose life experiences are similar to those of children in the juvenile legal system.

The Gault Center envisions a time when young people will not be criminalized, and until then we will advance youth rights in the juvenile legal system by ensuring that: 

  • Youth defense is a specialized practice and youth defenders have access to resources and opportunities that enable them to fully exercise and enhance their legal, management, leadership, and advocacy skills; 
  • All youth are treated with respect, dignity, and fairness; 
  • Juvenile court decision-makers are knowledgeable, sensitive, and responsive to the needs of young people; 
  • Youth defenders have parity of resources, compensation, and opportunity for advancement with adult defenders and prosecutors; and 
  • Excellence is routine.

We invite you to join one of the strongest professional communities in the country and help lead the way to disentangling young people from the legal system

On this page you will find programs and materials to help you explore opportunities in youth defense. Please reach out to us with questions, ideas, or requests. We welcome your voice, your lived experience, and your passion for youth defense because we are Gault!

How to Get Involved

Ambassadors for Racial Justice (ARJ)

The Ambassadors for Racial Justice (ARJ) program is a nationally recognized, unique program for youth defenders who strive to challenge racial injustice in the juvenile legal system. The Georgetown Juvenile Justice Clinic & Initiative (GJJI) and the Gault Center partner to inspire and prepare dedicated youth defenders and advocates to assume leadership roles and develop strategies to combat racial inequities in their respective jurisdictions, and throughout the country. The year-long program uses guided discussion, webinars, and mentorship to prepare participants to battle racial injustice. Applications are released in the fall of each year and a cohort of 10 new ambassadors begins each January.

Youth Defense Training

The Gault Center organizes and delivers high-quality training sessions for defenders and court participants on a broad range of youth justice topics as well as content from our specialized youth defense curriculum, the Youth Defender Advocacy Program (“YDAP”). YDAP is the only youth defense specific training curriculum in the country. Using this curriculum and other research-based content, our programs provide interactive, practice-focused training for large or small groups. The range of topics included in the 42-lesson program covers issues like detention advocacy, competency, adolescent development, Fourth Amendment and so much more. Contact the Gault Center team for more information about YDAP and other training in your area.

Summer Academy

The Youth Defender Advocacy Program Summer Academy (“Summer Academy”) is an annual one-week intensive youth defender training program for new and experienced front-line defenders. The interactive training provides participants with the foundation for high-quality, meaningful representation of young people and is the “gold standard” in youth defense training. Youth defenders wishing to participate must apply in the fall, will be notified of their status in February, and the program takes place in June in Washington, DC. Each year 42 youth defenders are selected from jurisdictions across the country.

Regional Centers

The Gault Center is a clearinghouse for nine Youth Defender Regions. Each Region coordinates activities in the states within its region and keeps the Gault Center connected to the front lines of youth defense in urban, suburban, rural, and tribal settings. Regional Centers offer skills-based training and technical assistance to youth defenders, engage in advocacy to enhance youth defense and protect youth rights, and conduct outreach efforts to grow the youth defense community. Regional Centers work to center racial justice and justice for the most vulnerable populations in all of their work.

Youth Defender Leadership Summit

The Youth Defender Leadership Summit brings together hundreds of youth defense attorneys from every state, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. Summit serves to energize and inspire attorneys who endure staggering caseloads, limited resources, and the obstacles presented by a juvenile legal system that is fraught with racial and ethnic bias. The Summit, the only national gathering of youth defenders, enables defenders to take part in cutting-edge workshops, develop and share strategies to better represent the legal interests of children, learn from experts, and draw strength from their community. Summit leaves defenders with the renewed courage to continue fighting and the knowledge that they are a part of a strong and unshakeable community dedicated to strengthening the voices, rights, and interests of children.


The Gault Center supports and continues to expand a network of youth defenders. Listservs provide a platform for the community to distribute information and engage in dialogue about youth defense representation. The most active lists are described below. You can see the full list of discussion groups and sign up for our listservs here.

  • GaultInfo: A list for professionals with an interest in juvenile legal system issues, including defenders, prosecutors, judges, probation officers, academics, parents, students, and others. Members receive periodic announcements about major news in the field youth defense, youth rights, and the juvenile legal system.
  • GaultDiscuss. A group exclusively for defense attorneys who wish to discuss issues that arise in their daily practice or that have broader policy implications. Members can post questions or seek feedback from other youth defenders on challenges in or approaches to their defense practice or reform efforts.
  • State Listservs. Discussion groups for youth defenders in the applicable state. Members may engage in discussions regarding state-specific issues, practices, and resources.

Foundational Resources

The Gault Center produces reports, training guides, and practice-focused materials to provide youth defenders with timely, useful information. All publications are available on the Gault Center website.

State Assessments are a cornerstone of The Gault Center’s work is to advance specialization and excellence in youth defense. Assessments provide a detailed analysis of how youth defense is delivered in states and offer recommendations to support excellence in the provision of those services. Please see our assessment page for more details and contact the Gault Center if you are interested in pursuing an assessment in your state.

Defend Children: A Blueprint for Effective Juvenile Defender Services describes how children are arrested, prosecuted, and too often incarcerated without attorney representation. The Blueprint proposes solutions to the ongoing crisis in youth defense; illustrates its disparate impact on historically oppressed communities, and highlights innovative and replicable programs across the country that are improving children’s access to justice.

Seeing What’s Underneath: A Resource for Understanding Behavior & Using Language in Juvenile Court  is a two-part guide to help system decision-makers choose supportive language as well as understand and respond to normal adolescent behaviors with compassion and empathy and develop strategies to validate a young person’s anxiety and trauma. The result of a partnership between Fair and Just ProsecutionGeorgetown Law’s Juvenile Justice Clinic & Initiative, and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ), the guide also encourages system decision-makers to adopt communication that affirms the dignity and value of all youth.

Access Denied: A National Snapshot of States’ Failure to Protect Children’s Right to Counsel, reveals that nearly every state falls short of its constitutional obligation to provide effective lawyers for youth. Based on statutory analysis and interviews with youth defenders in every state, the Snapshot exposes gaps in procedural protections for children — gaps that perpetuate the over-criminalization of youth, racial and economic disparities, and the fracturing of families and communities.

National Juvenile Defense Standards (“The Standards“) provide comprehensive  definitions of the role and duties of the youth defender in the 21st century juvenile court system, and seek to strengthen and guide the ethical and professional performance of the youth defense attorney. The Standards present a national approach to systematizing zealous, competent, and diligent defense practice in juvenile court and set out a framework for representation that is anchored in the law, science, and professional codes of responsibility and can be tailored for use in states and jurisdictions.

The Role of Juvenile Defense Counsel in Delinquency Court describes the critical and specialized role of the youth defender and reflects best practices as defined by the field—front-line defenders, social workers, academics, and other juvenile court advocates working in our nation’s juvenile delinquency courts every day. The goal of the piece is to educate judges, prosecutors, probation officers, and other juvenile court professionals about the importance of the youth defender’s responsibility to advocate for the client’s expressed interests and is grounded in ethical obligations.

Factsheets & Infographics
The Gault Center produces and distributes fact sheets on various topics to provide useful information and practical strategies to youth defenders, on topics like The Role of Youth Defense Counsel at Disposition, Collateral Consequences: Obstructing the Pathway to Young People’s Success, and Eliminating Shackling in Juvenile Court: Continuing the Momentum.

Issue Briefs
The Gault Center produces and distributes Issue Briefs intended to provide national snapshots of specific youth defense issues and approaches for addressing relevant issues and strategies for reform, for example, Juvenile Defense Standards A Framework for the Specialized Representation of Youth, The Cost of Juvenile Probation: A Critical Look into Juvenile Supervision Fees, and Tips on Youth Trauma for Youth Defenders.

Thank You

The Gault Center thanks you for your interest in the youth defense community and for the work you do representing young people. We look forward to connecting with you and welcoming you to the community of defenders.