CARE Project



In 1999, the Juvenile Division of the Public Defender’s Office implemented its Client Assessment Recommendation and Evaluation (CARE) Project, one of the nation’s first holistic advocacy programs.  The CARE Project focuses on early intervention with youth in delinquency court by addressing the cluster of underlying causes of delinquent behavior such as mental illness, intellectual disability, developmental disabilities, learning disabilities, emotional disturbances, and trauma.  By referring clients for evaluation, identification and intervention at the pre-trial stage, the Public Defender focuses on abating the behaviors that prompted the filing of the juvenile petition in these cases.  Members of the CARE Project team are able to provide the court with a better assessment of the youth’s needs, present tailored recommendations for appropriate conditions of care and identify resources that will assist the child and family.  This approach enables the court to make orders that will foster accountability by both the youth and the juvenile delinquency system.

A 2017 Resource Development Associates report found: (1) CARE clients who received extended services have significantly less subsequent contact with the juvenile justice system, and (2) CARE services appear to successfully help clients obtain desired dispositional outcomes. Over the past decade, the court has adopted 77% of the disposition recommendations. Judicial officers have stated that the evaluations are invaluable in making the courts better equipped to identify youth with emotional or developmental issues.  Channeling select resources to at-risk youth has proven effective in assisting them deal with challenges faced outside the courtroom and beyond detention, ultimately reducing recidivism.

Resource Attorneys and Psychiatric Social Workers

Begun in 1999 with three attorneys, the Public Defender’s CARE Project is now looked upon as the gold standard for such programs.  CARE operates within all seven juvenile branches of the Los Angeles County Public Defender’s Office.

Psychiatric social workers assess a juvenile client’s abilities and deficits to determine the youth’s special needs whether developmental, emotional, or psychological.  Thereafter, a Deputy Public Defender may share the psychosocial assessment with the court.  The information plays a key role in individualizing and humanizing each youth for busy bench officers who may not otherwise be provided insight of such depth.  Based on the assessment, an individualized treatment plan – whether formal or informal – is created to address the issues that put the youth at risk for delinquent behavior with the aim of significantly reducing the likelihood of recidivism.  The psychiatric social workers also provide consultation services which include early intervention to identify needed services, referrals to community resources, client support during the court process, advocating for youth in their school systems, and recommendations for disposition plans in difficult cases.   Social workers may also appear alongside resource attorneys at meetings and hearings in court, school districts and at Regional Centers.

Resource attorneys advocate on behalf of juvenile clients to assure accountability by various outside agencies that are legally obligated to provide services addressing the youth’s educational and mental health needs.  For example, our resource attorneys appear at Individual Education Plan meetings, handle enrollment issues, expulsion proceedings and a myriad of administrative hearings at schools to ensure youth receive appropriate special education services.  Resource attorneys advocate at Regional Centers for eligibility and services, including handling all stages of the appeal proceedings.

Resource attorneys also garner Department of Mental Health entitlements for their juvenile clients and provide consultation for other Deputy Public Defenders on complicated cases involving children coming from the Dependency Court system.


  • 2006: California Council on Mentally Ill Offenders Best Practices Award; the only non-mental health court program that received the award.
  • 2016-17: Resource Development Associates evaluated the CARE Project and found it to be a “highly effective approach to defense that results in reduced negative contact with the juvenile justice system and improved dispositional outcomes for clients.”
  • 2017-2021:  Grant funded by the Juvenile Justice Coordinating Council under the Juvenile Justice Crime Prevention Act to hire six additional psychiatric social workers. The grant was renewed in 2019 and extended to provide a Mental Health Clinical Supervisor; the grant was renewed once again in 2020 and 2021.
  • 2018, Mega Million Dollar Award from the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors’ Chief Executive Office’s Quality and Productivity Commission. Bestowed for collaborating with key justice system stakeholders to provide youth with critical linkages to treatment and services in an innovative and cost-effective approach.