What do we do in our free time; it’s something attorneys get asked on occasion. Well we are just like any other person out there; we go home spend time with our families and unwind (which for me usually involves an outdoor activity/sports or some television). However, there is something else I do in my free time that I am very proud of and enjoy doing and that is serving on the Youth Aid Panel for my local community.
The majority of our clients here at the firm range from their 40s to their 90’s but we do not really deal with the youth in the area. That is by design; we are an estate planning and elder law firm. Just by that alone we do not have numerous interactions with the younger generation at our office. Nonetheless, through my life what I have learned is that I am pretty good at not only communicating to the clientele we serve but connecting with the younger generation as well. I wanted to find ways to continue doing that outside of my 8-5 job and the Youth Aid Panel was one of those ways.
In general, people in the community are unaware the Youth Aid Panel exists and certainly do not truly understand what it does or is trying to accomplish. The Youth Aid Panel can be found in local communities throughout the Northeast and the state for that matter. These panels are operated as an arm of the District Attorney’s office and are filled by volunteers in the community. The purpose of the Youth Aid Panel is to give young people (under the age of 18) a chance at a clean record if they have gotten in trouble for certain summary or other charges (possessing tobacco on school property, fighting, marijuana possession, shoplifting, theft, underage drinking, etc.). If an individual under 18 gets in trouble and this is their first offense they have the opportunity to come in front of a Youth Aid Panel if they so choose (as opposed to seeing the magistrate).
The Youth Aid Panel is manned by a group of individuals from the community who volunteer their time each month to meet with these children The panel meets with the child and their guardian to discuss why they are in front of them, why the child did what they did and what can happen moving forward. Our job as panel members is to talk with these children about what they did, but not focus on their poor decision but rather the things that are going well in their life; their interests, friends, hobbies, school and grades.
The idea is to try and get a full picture of what this child is dealing with and maybe see why they did what they did. After discussion with the child and guardian we come up with a contract for the child that they have to follow for the next three months and complete. This contract usually contains community service hours, possibly restitution, (depending on the child’s interests or family dynamics) they may have to cook for their family once a week, present a comparison of two vocations they are interested in, create a budget to raise a child on, write a song, build something out of wood, etc. During these three months the child is in constant contact with their monitor (a panel member) who helps make sure they are on track to complete their contract and is there to answer any questions they may have throughout the process.
The idea with this contract is to give them some structure but more importantly focus their energy towards things they have interest in and open their eyes to things that our out there besides getting in trouble.
At the end of three months the children come back to us with their contract and hopefully they have completed everything they were required to do. If the child successfully completes the contract and does not get in any more trouble during those three months their record is expunged and they do not have to tell colleges or employers that they were ever charged with a crime. If they do not take this process seriously or do not successfully complete their contract their case goes back to the DA and usually they are sent to the juvenile probation system. For the majority of children who come before us they are successful. They understand this is a huge opportunity for them as they are just starting out in the world and do not want that blemish on their records.
So, why do I do this panel? Society has changed and it’s not always for the better. We were all in high school at one point and have probably done our fair share of dumb things. In today’s school system things we did 10/20 years ago which maybe got us a slap on the wrist or a detention are now getting children criminal records! They are shutting doors for these children before they even have the opportunity to open them and that is a huge problem.
The Youth Aid Panel is just one way I can volunteer my time to make sure kids who are just being kids in most cases have the same opportunities I had growing up. I work with the Panel at my old high school and when I see some of these stories I think this could have been me or one of my friends ten years ago.
So when I am not helping the older population in Northeast PA, I use some of my free time to help the younger population as well!
For more information on the Luzerne County Youth Aid Panel: http://www.luzernecounty.org/county/row_offices/district_attorney/youth-aid-panels