In the early days of opening our child -focused practice, we represented mostly children and adolescents. However, as the years have gone by, our focus has expanded to include legal representation of emerging young adults as a significant population.* (ages 18-29). For young people with disabilities, including learning disabilities and mental health issues, this period of their lives can be a particularly difficult time.
A few facts regarding this group helps explain the necessity of providing informed legal services to assist in the transition. These twenty-somethings tend to have a higher rate of involvement in the legal system, specifically the criminal justice system.
“For young adults, it can be a stressful time. High rates of anxiety, depression, motor-vehicle accidents and alcohol use are at their peak from ages 18 to 25, trends that tend to level out by age 28.” (Wall Street Journal, August 12, 2012, Delayed Development: 20 Somethings Blame the Brain). The top 10 causes of death in young people, including motor vehicle accidents, homicides and suicides, are all preventable issues related to judgment, not illness.
Below are a few facts regarding this group:
* Adolescents and 20-something brains are also particularly vulnerable to trauma, abuse, alcohol and drugs. Brain scans have shown that heavy drinking defined as 20 or more drinks a month in young people can lead to decreased cognitive function, memory and attention.
* Some severe mental illnesses also become apparent between ages 15 and 25. (e.g. schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder)
Our role as attorneys goes beyond simply showing up in court or filing motions. In our office, the emphasis is on a multidisciplinary approach in addressing the legal needs of our clients. The goal is to identify appropriate interventions that will not only deal with the immediate legal issues but also prevent further deterioration. For example, as part of our representation of young adults with mental health issues or developmental disabilities, we insist on an evaluation, encourage treatment, and work in a therapeutic way to use the current legal matter as an opportunity for intervention.
Obviously our goal is to prevent or mitigate the life altering consequences of a conviction or other serious long term consequences attendant to poor decision making and impulsive behavior.
Emerging Adulthood: The Winding Road for the Late Teens Through the Twenties ( Oxford University Press, 2004).
The Child and Family Law Center, Highland Park, IL (847)-926-0101. www.lawforchild.com
NAMI Cook County North Suburban: namiccns.org
Yellowbrick. A unique treatment program located in Evanston, Illinois specializing in the mental health and other issues designed specifically to address the needs of the emerging adult population.