Facing Bittersweet Moments and Hard Truths as NYC Juvenile Public Defender

As a Public defender with the Legal Aid Society’s Adolescent Intervention and Diversion Project, Donna Henken works with 13- to 15-year-olds charged with felony crimes. These adolescents are known as juvenile offenders and they are tried in adult criminal court rather than family court. Henken’s clients struggle with the same issues as juveniles in the family court system. According to the Legal Aid Society, about 20 percent of these youth have experience with the foster care system. Almost two-thirds have special-education needs and about 25 percent of them have significant mental health issues that require ongoing care.