The Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights is a non-profit organization whose mission is to advocate for the rights of unaccompanied immigrant children. Guided by the principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and state and federal child protection laws, the Young Center has developed the only program in the nation that provides guardians ad litem (Child Advocates) for trafficking victims and unaccompanied immigrant children. Our work serving individual children drives our policy work.
Through our work as Child Advocates (guardians ad litem), we promote change by advocating for the best interests of individual immigrant children, thereby educating stakeholders about the importance of considering the ‘Respondent’ as a child. Child Advocates are bilingual and often bicultural volunteers who are trained and supervised by attorneys with experience in children’s rights and immigration law. In every case assigned a Child Advocate, the Young Center provides the child’s attorney (if they are represented) and the decision-maker with a report about the best interests of that individual child.
The role of Child Advocate is distinct from that of the immigration attorney of record. The Child Advocate must identify and advocate for the best interests—the safety and well-being—of the child. The immigration attorney is obligated to follow the child’s expressed (stated) interests, and cannot act contrary to the child’s wishes. In a system where every child is provided an attorney at the government’s expense, Child Advocates would most likely be required only for cases where children lacked the capacity to express their interests, where best interests and expressed interests conflicted (e.g., the child despairs of spending another month in detention and asks to return to her country where it is likely she will be killed), or where there are concerns regarding the child’s attorney (e.g., unethical behavior). Today, however, most children are un-represented, and for the most vulnerable children, Child Advocates make recommendations about conditions of detention, release, custody, placement and issues of safe repatriation, and they help them find attorneys to take their cases.