Remote Youth-led Advocacy

Cathy Moffa, MSS, MLSP and Marcía Hopkins, MSW,
Marcía Hopkins and Cathy Moffa

Juvenile Law Center and its Youth Advocacy Program have been working remotely for over 3 weeks since the Philadelphia shutdown during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are continuing our advocacy work and delivering individualized support for our youth advocates on a regular basis, despite these challenging times and less than ideal circumstances.

Before the office went remote until further notice, the Youth Advocacy Staff and leadership at Juvenile Law Center worked diligently to put measures and policies in place to ensure that each young person involved in the program could remain engaged, compensated, and supported. Some of these measures include updating addresses to mail checks to the youth advocates, planning conference calls for the regular weekly workshops, working with each youth advocate to identify the best mode of communication to receive work to complete, and planning for regular check-ins via video chat or phone to ensure the youth advocates continue to receive support to access the supplies and services they need.

The primary goal of the Youth Advocacy Program is to elevate the lived experience and expertise of young people in the child welfare and justice systems to develop long-lasting systemic change through policy advocacy. Typically, much of this work is conducted through in-person meetings of the youth advocates with agency staff and with external partners. Since our program operates on a school calendar cycle with new projects developed every year, Youth Advocacy Staff cannot simply pause the hard work and projects youth advocates have been working on at this point in the calendar. Since working remotely, the youth advocates in Youth Fostering Change (YFC) have crafted recommendations both locally and statewide to support the mental and behavioral health needs of young people in the child welfare system. They also are working to craft recommendations for more robust community-based supports for youth who are already system-involved and for supports to prevent them and their families from ever becoming system-involved. Youth advocates in Juveniles for Justice (J4J) are developing recommendations that build on Juvenile Law Center’s Transforming Justice Report. Their recommendations, like YFC’s also call for more robust community-based supports to prevent young people from being involved in the justice system and increased  diversion and re-entry programs and services in Philadelphia. As we continue this work, we are also working to schedule virtual meetings with key stakeholders to discuss our recommendations.

Youth Advocacy staff are also maintaining strong connections with most of our current members of YFC and J4J, and with many alumni of the program. Our staff of 5- two program managers, one program fellow, and two social work interns- conduct weekly virtual check-ins with our youth advocates. For some of our youth advocates, this communication may be the only personal outreach they have received since the city of Philadelphia has implemented the “stay at home” policy. Unfortunately, we recognized that many of our partners in the field have had to close or cut back services that they are unable to provide through remote access. Our Youth Advocacy Program is fortunate to have the support and resources to remain open remotely and therefore, refer youth advocates to community-based services that are still operating and to ship supplies to our youth advocates directly. We also recently received financial support to provide our youth advocates and active alumni with additional stipends beyond their usual pay that has continued from Juvenile Law Center during the COVID-19 crisis. Many of them are unable to earn money beyond this funding for their work as youth advocates with us during this time.

Our hope is that we will remain a consistent presence, providing regular opportunities for our youth advocates during a time when so many of our partners have been forced to completely shut down. Young people in Philadelphia in the child welfare and justice systems need access to these resources and supports and already often struggle to access services. This pandemic will further separate them from human support and interaction. Understanding the impact of young people’s involvement in these systems, we are grateful that we can remain open to continue to work alongside our youth advocates, and provide them support, as we continue to push to reform the child welfare and justice system during this very critical time.

About the Expert

Hopkins facilitates Juvenile Law Center’s Youth Advocacy Program: Youth Fostering Change, Juveniles for Justice, and the Youth Speakers Bureau. She also works closely with our attorneys on various policy-focused projects related to foster youth and transition-aged youth.

As Youth Advocacy Program Manager, Moffa manages, coordinates, and facilitates the office's youth advocacy programs: Youth Fostering Change, Juveniles for Justice, and the Youth Speakers Bureau. Additionally, Cathy supervises the yearly social work intern.