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Thursday, March 25, 2021

AG HEALEY ANNOUNCES CHILDREN’S JUSTICE UNIT

 AG HEALEY ANNOUNCES CHILDREN’S JUSTICE UNIT

Renames First-of-its-Kind Unit; Expands Work Around Education, Juvenile Justice, Child Welfare, Immigration, and Substance Use Prevention

BOSTON – To reflect the breadth of work being done to promote more equitable and positive outcomes for vulnerable children and young people in Massachusetts, Attorney General Maura Healey today announced her office’s newly-renamed Children’s Justice Unit (CJU). The unit replaces the Child and Youth Protection Unit, the first-of-its kind unit that AG Healey created in 2015.

As the unit has developed over the years, it has taken on a broad range of litigation and policy work, including in education, juvenile justice, child welfare, immigration, and substance use prevention. Embedded in and working closely with the AG’s Civil Rights Division, CJU has focused on initiatives that ensure justice and equity for Massachusetts’s young people.

“We created this unit to utilize our office’s unique position and expertise to advocate for and protect our state’s youngest residents, and we have seen that work grow over the past five years to meet the needs of children and families,” AG Healey said. “As we take on more initiatives to ensure justice and equity, we want the focus of our newly-named Children’s Justice Unit to reflect our increased work to support vulnerable children and young people in Massachusetts.”

Some examples of CJU’s past and present work include:

  • Addressing hate, bullying, and harassment in schools: CJU engages in work to stop harassment and bullying in schools. Recent work includes creating guidance for schools to help prevent and address hate and bias incidents, suing former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos over Title IX regulations that weaken protections for sexual assault and harassment survivors, and most recently filing a Supreme Court amicus brief supporting schools’ ability to address certain off-campus bullying.
  • Education equity: CJU’s focus on education equity includes advocacy on K-12 school funding reform. This work is all the more important given the education inequities exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Early education and care: CJU leads work to support the state’s youngest residents, including creating a grant program for early education and care providers seeking training on trauma-informed care for at-risk children and leading the office’s response to the closure of childcare programs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • School resource officers: CJU’s work related to school resource officers includes the release of a statewide model Memorandum of Understanding for School Resource Officers to help create a safe and supportive learning environment and serving as AG Healey’s designee on the Model School Resource Officer Memorandum of Understanding Review Commission established in recent legislation.
  • Food insecurity: CJU engages in work to address hunger among children and their families, including fighting back against Trump Administration rules to limit Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or SNAP) benefits and take away free school meals. CJU has also built partnerships with local food banks and advocacy organizations to help combat food insecurity.
  • Children in DCF care or other out-of-home situations: Working with partners in government and advocacy organizations, CJU works to promote the best interests of children who are involved with DCF and/or in caregiving situations outside of their home. For example, CJU represents AG Healey on the Commission on the Status of Grandparents Raising Grandchildren and advocated for legislation signed into law this year that provides a right to counsel for indigent long-term guardians in custody cases. CJU has also engaged in advocacy for the rights of LGBTQ caregivers, including through amicus briefs in support of the right of same-sex couples to be foster parents, to help ensure that children in foster care have loving, caring homes available to them.
  • Human trafficking of children: In a new partnership with AG Healey’s Human Trafficking Division, CJU is increasing its work to help prevent and address human trafficking of children, specifically commercial sexual exploitation, using advocacy, public education, and/or civil enforcement tools.
  • Federal immigration lawsuits: CJU has fought back against Trump Administration immigration actions targeting young people and their families, including multistate cases to stop family separation, prevent prolonged and indefinite family detention, and protect international students in Massachusetts. CJU will continue to pursue outreach and other work with state and federal partners to bolster trust and protections and undo harms against immigrant communities in Massachusetts.
  • Youth vaping: In partnership with AG Healey’s Consumer Protection Division (CPD), CJU has helped to file litigation against e-cigarette companies, including JUUL Labs Inc., for creating a youth vaping epidemic by intentionally marketing and selling its e-cigarettes to young people. With CPD and AG Healey’s Policy & Government Division, CJU advocated for successful legislation banning flavored e-cigarettes and other tobacco products.
The Children’s Justice Unit leverages its expertise by working closely with other divisions and bureaus in the AG’s Office on child-related work and also advises child-serving state agencies. The unit is led by Director Angela Brooks and Assistant Attorney General Abby Eshghi.

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