There are a wide variety of reasons for strict confidentiality rules with respect to proceedings involving juveniles. Typically, the public has a right to be present in any judicial proceeding and anyone off the street can attend a trial. However, juvenile proceedings are quite often closed to the public; only relevant parties, close family members and approved attendees will be admitted. The reasons for confidentiality vary depending on the type of proceeding. Juveniles are parties to family court hearings, criminal proceedings and protective services hearings.
Confidentiality Helps Juvenile Criminal Offenders Later in Life
One reason for confidentiality in juvenile criminal proceedings is that the law understands that juveniles are not as capable as adults to make rational and logical decisions. As such, courts usually seal juvenile criminal records as not to hurt defendants' chances of gainful employment or higher education. Also, a key to the juvenile rehabilitation process is for offenders to admit their guilt and apologize to the victims. By understanding their offenses will be kept confidential, juveniles are less deterred from admitting guilt and beginning their rehabilitation.
Confidentiality Promotes Integrity and Reputation for Juvenile Offenders
Another common reason for confidentiality with respect to juvenile criminal offenders is that the public will not have access to the details of the crime, thus allowing family members to avoid a stigma and negative reputation. With this comes the realization that the media outlets are notoriously unrelenting when it comes to criminals whether they are juvenile or adult. By shielding the media from accessing records, the child can avoid public embarrassment and damage.
Publicity of Juvenile Records in Family Proceedings Has a Deterrent Effect
The majority of family court proceedings involve sensitive and personal family matters. Closed and confidential hearings are absolutely necessary to avoid deterring children and family members from reporting and testifying to instances of abuse, sexual molestation and other types of damaging testimony. Additionally, the policies make it easier for abusers to admit wrongdoing by keeping records sealed. For these reasons, family court records are kept confidential in nearly every state so children and families feel that the courtroom is a safe place for honesty and candor.
Read More: How to Obtain Juvenile Records
Family Court Matters are Extremely Sensitive and Personal
As with criminal juvenile proceedings, family court proceedings are always dealing with personal and sensitive matters. Family court hearings usually involve custody disputes, child support, neglect and testimony from social workers. Children testify as well as to their experiences and feelings about the family dynamic and their feelings about custody arrangements and treatment by their parents. These matters are kept confidential so the public cannot dig through records to reveal family secrets, causing negativity and damaged reputations to the parties involved.
Stephanie Reid has been writing professionally since 2007, with work published in the Virginia Bar Association's "Family Law Quarterly" and the "Whittier Journal of Child and Family Advocacy." She received her Juris Doctor from Regent University and her Bachelor of Arts in French and child development from Florida State University. Reid is admitted to practice law in Delaware and Maryland.