I am under 16 years old. What does it mean that a “next friend” can help me?
If you are under 16 years old, incapacitated, or incompetent, a “next friend” is generally someone who appears in a lawsuit to act on your behalf but the next friend does not actually apply for U visa status. In the case of applying for U visa status, a next friend would primarily stand in for you in working with law enforcement. You would still have to show you suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of being a victim of a crime.1 The next friend is not a party in the proceedings and is not appointed as a guardian for immigration purposes, though s/he may be an appointed guardian helping you in other matters.2 Next friends can be used to supply information on behalf of children who are applying, but can't supply all of the information or helpfulness themselves.
Note: Another possible immigration remedy for a child who was abused, abandoned, or neglected by a parent is Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS). It is important to know that you can still be considered to be "abandoned" by one parent even if you are living with, and being supported by, your other parent. If SIJ classification is granted, you may qualify for lawful permanent residency. You can read more about the requirements on the USCIS.gov website. Please talk to a lawyer who specializes in SIJS for specific advice.
1 INA §§ 101(a)(15)(U)(i)(II) & (III)
2 8 CFR § 214.14(a)(7)