Once social services steps in to protect children from violence and neglect in their homes, many youth become wards of the specialized juvenile or family court that assists in child protection (e.g., the dependency court). Some of these children will be ordered into foster care. Within this “dependency system,” such children often feel a lack of voice. This study tests the prediction that foster youth who perceive having more opportunity for voice, even indirectly via a representative, more favorably rate the dependency system. Adolescents (n = 110), aged 17 years, involved in foster care and age-matched nonfoster youth rated “how good or bad the foster care/dependency court is for foster youth.” The foster youth were also asked about their interactions with the court and with their attorney representatives. Foster and nonfoster youth did not significantly differ in dependency system ratings when considered at the overall group level. However, foster and nonfoster youth ratings significantly differed when foster youth’s views of relevant prior legal experiences (e.g., frequency of child–attorney contact, quality of attorney representation) were taken into account: Youth with the highest perceived quality of experiences indicated more positive views than any other group. The importance of perceived quality of experience adds insight into mechanisms for improving adolescents’ feelings of voice in the legal system.
- foster youth
- legal representation