This toolkit was researched, written, and created by CLS attorney Kee Tobar, for her project as a Stoneleigh Foundation Emerging Leader Fellow.
Legal aid organizations were created to help poor people access justice. This mission expanded during President Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty.” The aim of the “War on Poverty” was to not only relieve the symptom of poverty, but to cure it and prevent it. That mission still holds true today. Presently, civil legal aid organizations around the country help millions of low-income people in the areas of housing, education, consumer rights, family, and employment law, as well as defending access to social services and benefits for people of all backgrounds. However, one group in particular could gain from legal aid organizations investing more attention and resources in the group – transition-aged youth. Transition-aged youth are youth between the ages 16-24. Legal aid organizations around the nation routinely prioritize older age groups, which is reflected in their outreach, intake model, and daily processes. For example, the intake model of many legal aid organizations is for the client to come to the organization during regular business hours, which serves as a barrier to younger clients who may not be able to afford transportation or navigate to the office during the day.
Once youth or young adults become clients, there are more barriers to effective services. For example, legal aid organizations may over-rely on mailing letters, rather than utilize texting or emailing, or leveraging social media, which are more youth accessible. Legal aid organizations should consider adopting practices that are more youth-friendly in order to address high rates of poverty among a growing group of people who are in dire need of legal assistance.
Transition-aged youth and young adults are going through a financial crisis as a result of the trend of over-criminalization, a depleted public education system, and the lack of access to jobs, especially those that pay more than the minimum wage. This financial crisis is especially pronounced for parenting youth, youth of color, LGBTQIA+ youth, and youth with intersecting marginalized identities. The poverty rate for transition-aged youth is 16.1 percent. For young parents, age 18-24, 27.8 percent are poor. One quarter of black young adults, age 18-24 are living in poverty nationally, nearly twice the rate for white young adults.
Legal aid organizations must seize this moment to figure out how to best reach and serve young people like transition-aged youth. This toolkit is designed as a practical tool to help legal services organizations more intentionally design programs to serve, properly advocate, and address the many needs of transition-aged youth and young adults using best practices in the field.