10 Years In, Lots More Dreams for Juvenile Law Center’s Youth Advocacy Program

Cathy Moffa, Marcia Hopkins, Youth Today •

Imagine a program that allows a young person who has been deeply affected by statewide systems to have autonomy and decision-making ability alongside other changemakers and policymakers. Juvenile Law Center’s Youth Advocacy Program is exactly that. It’s made up of three components – Juveniles for Justice (for youth with justice system involvement), Youth Fostering Change (for youth with foster care involvement) and our Youth Speakers Bureau (for alumni to continue their advocacy). These programs give young people the ability to sit down with decision-makers who have been in charge of the systems affecting their lives to provide feedback and recommendations for improvement. This year, the Youth Advocacy Program hit a major milestone — its 10-year anniversary.

We thought it was a good opportunity, as the two social workers who staff the program, to reflect on why its existence is so vital and transformative — and to set our intentions for the next decade. We know how important it is for youth impacted by the justice and child welfare systems to be at the head of the decision-making table when it comes to reform. If we are trying to advocate for youth without going directly to them to ask what is happening to them and what they need, we are doing both ourselves and the youth a disservice. We can’t effectively make change if we aren’t asking youth how to make that change. We, as advocates, should continue to make sure youth are involved in the process at every stage, every time.

About the Expert