Identifying Policy Windows
Juvenile Law Center’s Youth Advocacy Program campaigns follow a project calendar that runs from October to May. New campaigns are chosen each year by the youth advocates with the support of staff. In recent years, the program staff members at Juvenile Law Center have incorporated more opportunities to teach the youth advocates how to make informed decisions around campaign topic selection. This process is rooted in the research of John Kingdon’s “Multiple Stream Theory” and the process of policy analysis and open policy windows.
The theory goes that if advocates identify a problem with enough people impacted, a viable policy solution, and sufficient political support to advance the solution, a window of opportunity opens where public policy can be introduced and implemented.
Previously, program staff supported youth advocates in identifying issues based solely on personal experience and passion. Unfortunately, many of the projects that were chosen based on these standards only had momentum in the beginning of the campaign but fizzled without a clear policy solution or strong political support, leaving youth advocates disappointed in the process. Since revising the decision-making process based on lessons learned, the youth-led campaigns have reached new levels of success and sustainability because the groups saw implementation of their projects, and partners were identified to carry on the work.
Recognizing Root Causes
The Youth Advocacy Program staff has taken a more deliberate approach to issue selection and campaign development over the years to ensure that the youth advocates have the space to also address root issues of systemic racism in their projects. The juvenile justice system and foster care system disproportionately impact Black, Latinx/Latine, and Indigenous young people and other young people of color.
If advocacy efforts do not include discussions of race and how a young person’s race has an impact on their access to resources and opportunities, then any effort to implement long lasting systemic change will come up short.
Youth Advocacy staff do not shy away from deliberately calling out race, oppression, and privilege during weekly workshops.
Collaborating with Opposing and Like-minded Partners
The Youth Advocacy Program at Juvenile Law Center has a long history and intention of collaborating with funders, community partners, and key decision-makers. The youth advocates meet regularly with key decision makers in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and nationally. They not only appreciate the youth advocates’ willingness to speak about their sometimes-traumatizing experiences in the juvenile justice and foster care systems, they also are challenged by the thoughtful campaigns and recommendations for change that the young people have worked diligently to develop. Equally important, programs need to establish relationships with grassroots, youth-led organizations, movements, and projects. These relationships are crucial to the program, and youth advocates in their advocacy campaign by having support and guidance from others in the city.
Preparing Outside Partners
All interactions with outside partners take a great deal of preparation from program staff to ensure that youth advocates can clearly and confidently convey their message to their audience.
If youth advocates present to a group of decision makers who have had a major impact on their own lives (judges, probation officers, case workers, etc), they need to feel that their anger and fear is validated by program staff, and they need to know they will be supported during this experience.
Additionally, program staff need to communicate these concerns to the partner and request that they follow guidelines about asking questions and allowing the youth speaker to decline questions.
Working with Media Partners
The Youth Advocacy Program also partners with various media outlets to share recommendations, lived experiences, and project campaigns. These partnerships are tricky to navigate. Media outlets often want as much detail as possible for their stories.
Youth Advocacy Program staff have protocols that state that youth advocates should never feel they have to talk about a part of their story that they are uncomfortable sharing and they can share whatever form of their name that makes them most comfortable.
These protocols also cover informing youth advocates of the possible implications of sharing photos and first and last names publicly. Program management works closely with communications staff at Juvenile Law Center to ensure that every media opportunity has the young person’s best interest in mind, images and names are used with consent, and the young person knows they always have the freedom to decline or step away from an interview.