Ten Years of Juvenile Law Center’s Youth Advocacy Program

Juvenile Law Center’s Youth Advocacy Program is one of the many components of our work that makes Juvenile Law Center a uniquely effective leader. We benefit every day from the expertise of our youth advocates in Juveniles for Justice and Youth Fostering Change, borne in part from their experience in the juvenile justice and/or child welfare systems. This year, we are celebrating the 10th Anniversary of our Youth Advocacy Program #10YearsofYA so it is a great time to reflect upon our amazing program.

Wednesday and Thursday afternoons are my favorite time in our office as we are brimming with youth advocates participating in Youth Fostering Change and Juveniles for Justice workshops. I have two youth advocate “buddies,” one in each group, so I often share lunch or a snack with them before their program meeting, giving me a jolt of energy and renewed determination to work even harder to reform the systems that have had such an impact on their lives. Our youth advocates are from Philadelphia, where our systems are overwhelmingly filled with black and brown youth. Their voices are often buried in bureaucracy and a society that silences the voice of youth, especially youth of color. In our program, these youth voices demand to be heard and set the agenda based upon their recommendations crafted together over the course of a year developing their reform campaign.

When I returned to Juvenile Law Center in 2015, the Youth Advocacy Program was one of the components of the work that convinced me that I wanted to help lead Juvenile Law Center. At a time when advocates in the field were increasingly recognizing the importance of centering youth voice and bringing those closest to the problem to the front of the reform, Juvenile Law Center already had years of experience in youth advocacy. Jessica Feierman, our Senior Managing Director, founded a youth advocacy program beginning with Juveniles for Justice and followed the next year by the addition of Youth Fostering Change. I don’t think she could have envisioned the breadth of work they would do through their annual reform campaigns and all the youth advocates who would become integral teammates in reforming the justice and child welfare systems.

Their campaigns have changed law and practice in many areas of our work. A hotline and resources for expungement of juvenile records, a court sheet to prepare for permanency hearings in Family Court, last year’s permanency toolkit, Broken Bridges report and recommendations for conditions of confinement, and federal legislation protecting youth in facilities from abuse are just some of their accomplishments. This year, both groups are collaborating closely with our education team and playing a leadership role in reform efforts. Youth Fostering Change is advocating for educational stability even when youth face living placement changes, and Juveniles for Justice is pushing to ensure that youth get credits for their education during placement when they leave facilities.

What makes the 10th Anniversary so meaningful to me is both the history and future of the program. I am awed by Jessica’s prescience in envisioning the program long before recent efforts to incorporate youth voice. The evolution of the program under Marcia Hopkins and Cathy Moffa’s management to become such a powerful driver of juvenile justice and child welfare reform is remarkable. Last year alone, our youth advocates conducted 72 presentations to a combined audience of over 3,600 stakeholders. We are now working to identify funding to document the core components of the program and package the key resources of the curriculum and past reform campaigns to provide materials to other organizations that plan to start or enhance similar programs centered in their own agency.

Contact me anytime to learn more about our youth advocacy program. Join with me in celebrating #10YearsofYA. Convert your celebration into action and become a sustaining donor by pledging a recurring donation targeted to our Youth Advocacy Program.