Youth, Rights & Justice, formerly the Juvenile Rights Project, began as part of Multnomah County Legal Aid in 1975. Attorneys and law students represented youth in delinquency cases in Multnomah County Juvenile Court and in a class action against the MacLaren Training School, a state juvenile correctional facility.

In 1980, Juvenile Rights Project became part of Oregon Legal Services, continuing its advocacy for children and young people through a series of lawsuits aimed at preventing the incarceration of minors in adult jails and in a suit over the conditions suffered by a young boy in state foster care. 

The office also worked with administrative agencies and the legislature to improve conditions for children and youth in the state. In 1985, the Juvenile Rights Project became an independent non-profit corporation, in part because of restrictions imposed by the Legal Services Corporation on the kind of work which could be undertaken on behalf of poor children and youth.

The Juvenile Rights Project was awarded the Outstanding Legal Advocacy Award from the National Association of Counsel for Children in 1997.

By 2011, Youth, Rights & Justice had represented 50,000 individual children, youth and parents in the juvenile court system, including the Multnomah County Juvenile Court, Oregon Court of Appeals, Oregon Supreme Court and the Oregon Juvenile Psychiatric Security Review Board, and in other venues, including local school districts.

Based upon this vast experience serving individuals, YRJ has also won numerous victories on behalf of Oregon's children and youth through class-action litigation and policy advocacy.

Legal Precedent and Class Action Victories

D.B. v. Tewksbury (1982) Federal litigation resulting in a landmark constitutional decision holding that the confinement of juveniles who have not been tried as adults in adult jails is unconstitutional. The decision has been credited as a major factor in an 80% national decline in juvenile jailings.

Robyn A. v. McCoy (Consent Decree, 1992) Federal litigation regarding the conditions at the juvenile detention center in Multnomah County, resulting in a consent decree requiring the county to build a new juvenile detention facility and to upgrade conditions and practices in the existing facility. 

Gary H. v. Hegstrom (1987) Federal litigation regarding the conditions at the MacLaren School for Boys, which houses children as young as twelve. After 10 years of investigation and litigation, the Federal District Court of Oregon found that the conditions at the MacLaren School for Boys violated the United States Constitution.

System of Care Settlement Agreement (1995) Settlement agreement in effect from 1995-2008 with the Oregon Department of Human Resources. The settlement agreement established flexible funding to better meet the needs of children and families and led to improved training, increased qualifications for case workers and other improvements in Oregon's foster care system.

A.R., et al v. State of Oregon et al., Settlement Agreement (2018)  Settlement agreement limiting the ability of the Department of Human Services to temporarily lodge children in hotels, DHS offices, medical facilities despite readiness for medial discharge, and juvenile detention facilities despite the absence of any criminal or delinquency charge. After 20 months of monitoring, YRJ (along with the Oregon Law Center) returned to Federal Court seeking to enforce the settlement agreement resulting from DHS noncompliance.  Because of DHS’ failure to comply with the settlement agreement, an enforcement action was presented in Federal Court on December 6, 2019 and Judge McShane found DHS not in substantial compliance with the agreement.  The resulting arbitration order states that DHS is not permitted to temporarily lodge a child unless there is no possibility of safely supporting the child with services and supports up to a cost of $2179.89 per day.  The full arbitration order provides more detail about training DHS staff, identifying children at risk of temporary lodging, and reporting/documentation.


YRJ has passed a number of laws to promote the safety and well-being of children in Oregon. Visit our Policy page for more details.