Celebrating Ten Years of Youth Advocacy: "The work we're doing is making a difference!"

Anahi, Youth Advocate and Alumna of Juveniles for Justice,

This article is part of a series celebrating the tenth anniversary of Juvenile Law Center’s youth advocacy programs, starting with highlighting the impact and future of Juveniles for Justice (J4J) during Youth Justice Action Month in October. Anahi Figueroa- Martinez is an alumnus of Juveniles for Justice and an active member of the Youth Speakers Bureau. As a youth advocate, she works on issues ranging from education, court fines and fees, and conditions of confinement for youth in juvenile placements. 

Since 2008, our programs have recruited and trained young people with current or past involvement in the child welfare or justice systems to lead advocacy and policy reform efforts in their communities. Please follow our hashtags - #10YearsofYA, #10YearsofJ4J - and become a Youth Advocacy Sustainer to support these young people as they continue to fight for change in years to come!

Including youth voice is important in juvenile justice reform work because it offers young people like me the chance to be heard and to speak on behalf of other youth who cannot speak up for themselves. Juvenile Law Center’s youth advocacy program, Juveniles for Justice, has given me a chance to add my voice to reform the juvenile justice system.

What brought me to Juveniles for Justice was the people. As soon as I started, I felt that it was a comforting and welcoming environment. At first, I was unsure about joining the program because it was out of my comfort zone, but once I started engaging in it I noticed that the work we were doing was very important and was helping youth.

Juveniles for Justice has had a big impact on my life. The staff in this program have helped me find my voice and become more outspoken. Through this program, I have grown so much and have accepted many speaking opportunities to share my story and my recommendations.

Youth advocates from J4J reading their poem and testifying at a 2017 Philadelphia City Council Hearing.
Juveniles for Justice youth advocates Eugene (left) and Anahi (right, blog author) speaking at a Philadelphia City Council hearing on juvenile costs and fees in 2017.

One of my favorite speaking engagements was when I had the chance to present alongside one of my J4J peers to share a poem that we created. We presented it to Philadelphia’s City Council. It focused on the harmful impact of juvenile costs, fines, and fees on youth and families. The same day as the council hearing where we read J4J’s poem, Philadelphia’s Department of Human Services announced that it would stop the practice of collecting a juvenile justice fee that was sometimes called “child support”—payments that parents and families had to make to the system for their child’s incarceration. This was a big step forward!

I’m glad J4J is celebrating 10 years as a program. It is amazing because it means the work we’re doing is making a difference! I believe this work impacts youth because it encourages young people to develop policies and push for reform at the local, state, and federal level. We also have opportunities to share our experiences and work closely with other youth like ourselves, gaining skills and developing resources that youth can use. Some examples of this include our record expungement card explaining how to expunge a juvenile record, the Guide to Navigating the Juvenile Justice System, and information on getting direct assistance to pay your court costs and fines. Being in a program like this, one that offers additional supports and resources, means we have an extra hand of support.

I really hope the Youth Advocacy Program at Juvenile Law Center continues to support youth as we grow to change the system. I hope we get to see another 10 years and that J4J will continue to help make a change in the juvenile justice system. I hope more alumni can come back to host and facilitate workshops, using their skills and talents to give back to new youth advocates.