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Providing long-term support to Berlin’s vulnerable young

Freestyle and Freshfields lawyers are partnering to support adolescents facing criminal charges or in precarious life situations.

Berlin-based association for youth welfare Freestyle specialises in intensive educational care for children and young people who fall through the cracks and find themselves in difficult situations like homelessness, prostitution or crime.

Freestyle offers a last resort for children and young people who would otherwise be living on the streets with 190 places in communal individual flats. Around 130 social workers look after about 350 young people.

Changing young lives

Freshfields lawyers are representing young people under Freestyle’s care in criminal investigations and court proceedings, not only as defence lawyers, but also supporting them as vulnerable witnesses. Freshfields also provides legal and practical training to Freestyle staff to help them deal with police and courts and better support their vulnerable young clients.

Bringing in a professional lawyer before trial (in a young offender’s interactions with the police, for example) helps structure support, builds a working relationship and builds long-term stability. Working with young people who are often traumatised requires pedagogical skills so Freestyle has conducted multiple workshops to prepare Freshfields’ lawyers for the specific needs of these clients.

Rather than address needs reactively, the programme aims to proactively close the gap between support from social workers (who often face with legal uncertainty and cannot refuse to give evidence, even against their own clients) and legal support from lawyers.

“We are using existing resources in social work, adding the legal component to jointly work on de-marginalisation of young offenders and a holistic approach to preventing violence and crime,” explains Freestyle’s Rebecca- Paulina Prausner who conceptualized the pedagogical approach of the project and build the Freestyle-internal infrastructure.

Young offenders supported by Freestyle often have precarious living conditions, including homelessness and drug addictions. Delinquency and violence are symptoms of a lack of emotional support and feeling overwhelmed, and encounters with the police and the justice system tend to be fraught.

Freestyle offers young people intensive pedagogical care. Our programme ensures a constant flow of information between state authorities, our young clients and social workers. We receive a lot of positive feedback from Freestyle staff and clients, as well as from youth judges, prosecutors and City of Berlin authorities.

Client successes

In the first six months, Freshfields took on several cases, some of which have already been closed. We hope to further grow the project in future.

Successes for clients have included minimizing the impact of criminal proceedings for vulnerable witnesses or helping a defendant to come to terms with a victim of his crime and preventing a criminal record. In one instance we filed a brief that protected a client from the potentially re‑traumatising obligation to give evidence.

The value for social workers and their young clients is obvious. Freshfields lawyers not only get the satisfaction of widening access to law and opportunity, they also have the opportunities for practical experience of trials and in criminal law.

“It’s great to see Freshfields’ engagement mirrors our own determination of not giving up on young people,” says one of Freestyle’s social workers.

The programme is part of Freshfields global work to support children and young people accessing justice and raising aspirations. You can read more on our website about our other community impact work and our pro bono work.