GLAD believes all young people should be valued and supported by their families, communities and our larger societal institutions. Yet, an astonishing number of young people don’t receive the support they need. Some are harmed by biased discipline and policing at school and in their communities, and others face outright rejection of who they are from these support structures, which results in mental health and behavioral challenges. In turn, these harms and rejections contribute to both youth homelessness and youth incarceration. This devastating school-to-prison pipeline disproportionately impacts LGBTQ youth, youth of color, youth with fewer economic resources, and youth with disabilities.

Our youth need and deserve better, and we are working with partners and other youth advocates to create broad and deep changes to school, corrections and child welfare systems, in order to ensure a world in which young people are valued and supported.

Ensuring Affirming Support in Foster Care

LGBTQ and gender-expansive youth are over represented in child welfare systems. Senior Staff Attorney Patience Crozier is working on a number of issues in the child welfare realm, including collaborating on a model national policy to guide child welfare agencies on best practices for LGBTQ youth in care, working with local systems on policies to affirm and protect LGBTQ youth, and providing education and legal technical assistance to youth and to attorneys on accessing gender-affirming medical care.

Juvenile Justice – There is a Better Way for Young People

Among our juvenile justice strategies, GLAD is advocating in Maine for bills that improve the experiences of young people in the court system while holding young people accountable for their actions and creating safer communities. With sustained advocacy from GLAD attorneys Mary Bonauto and Patience Crozier, Maine is currently considering legislation to divert youth from the criminal system. This bill would set a minimum age for criminal jurisdiction and incarceration, provide appointed counsel after “dispositions” to probation or incarceration, and require judicial review of incarcerated youth’s progress to ensure they are placed in the least restrictive setting appropriate to their circumstances.

An additional pending bill would introduce to Maine the practice of sealing juvenile records upon completion of their dispositions so that they are not stigmatized when applying to jobs or housing, or going to school. Currently, young people must wait years after they finish their sentences to petition a court to seal their records. Also for youth in school, a bill signed in May requires the State Department of Education to provide all public elementary and secondary schools with a model discipline policy including “policies that focus on positive and restorative interventions designed to strengthen relationships, improve the connection to school and promote a strong sense of accountability,” and technical assistance to schools to implement those policies. Restorative justice practices can be a powerful and effective alternative to school suspension, which is part of the school-to-prison pipeline.

In pursuit of systemic changes, Mary Bonauto also serves on the Maine Juvenile Justice System Assessment and Reinvestment Task Force as an LGBTQ community advocate. The Task Force was established to develop a continuum of community-based alternatives to incarceration for youth. Mary additionally serves on the Maine Law Court Standing Committee on Justice for Children, chaired by Maine Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Leigh Saufley. This Committee focuses on the child welfare system, which is another area requiring attention for LGBTQ youth and LGBTQ families.