An Overview Of The Youth Advocacy Program At Juvenile Law Center

Since 2008, Juvenile Law Center has been promoting youth voice and expertise through its Youth Advocacy Program which includes Advocates for Youth Justice (formally Juveniles for Justice), Advocates Transforming Youth Systems (formally Youth Fostering Change), and the Youth Speakers Bureau. Each program provides youth with system involvement, ages 15-22, the opportunity to develop, propose, and advocate for effective solutions to longstanding systemic problems. Through the program, youth program members develop leadership skills, political knowledge, communication and storytelling skills, and a sense of community. By choosing to share their personal experiences to develop and advance reforms, youth advocates help influence Juvenile Law Center’s priorities by working to affect policy change through advocacy, media outreach, and public education.

A person wearing a black knitted hat, black hoodie and black jean jacket holding a microphone



Advocates for Youth Justice

A group of young people with experience in the juvenile justice system, working to evaluate the system and develop and implement campaigns for system transformation.

Advocates Transforming Youth Systems

Youth currently or formerly involved in the child welfare system, working to evaluate the system and develop and implement a campaign for system transformation.

Youth Speakers Bureau

The YSB is designed to offer skills building, training and opportunities for youth advocates to use their skills to design, plan, and facilitate large scale presentations, like webinars, and legislative and policy meetings to push their reform efforts.

Youth Advocate Support and Compensation

Youth advocates are paid by Juvenile Law Center for all of their work and expertise, including travel and other related expenses. They are also offered individualized support as they navigate systems.


Youth expertise is essential to creating knowledgeable, progressive reform policies. Youth-driven programming that incorporates youth experience and expertise in systemic reform at the local, state, and national levels will result in targeted policies that effectively respond to the needs of youth.


Since 2008, Juvenile Law Center’s Youth Advocacy Program has evolved into a national model for deliberate, inclusive curriculum, community engagement, and advocacy because of the consistent feedback and expertise of the teens and young adults it serves.

Every year the program changes to better address the needs of the youth advocates both inside and outside of the program, and to ensure their advocacy work is driven by their lived experience and expertise.

One of the most important changes the program has made in alignment with the goals of Juvenile Law Center is to explicitly and thoughtfully center race in both the programming support for the youth advocates and the campaigns the youth advocates develop. Many of these changes have been driven by feedback from members of Youth Fostering Change and Juveniles for Justice.

Every component in this guide is influenced by years of collaboration with young people in Philadelphia. The Youth Advocacy Program at Juvenile Law Center has been so successful in engaging young people and making systemic changes in the foster care and juvenile justice systems because of our youth-centered approach and our willingness to adapt to meet our young members where they are when they enter and continue through the program. These components have been defined by policies that best support the fluid and sometimes unstable realities our youth advocates are experiencing AND by humbly asking for direction from our youth advocates when the program does not seem to be working for them and then involving them in the change process.


Youth members in the Youth Advocacy Program are constantly prompted for feedback on policies, procedures, and guiding principles that impact the continued  development and sustainability of the program. 

For all Youth Advocate Reflections sections in the toolkit, youth advocates from Advocates for Youth Justice and Advocates Transforming Youth System were given background on the guiding principles, were asked a series of questions about those principles, and were prompted to think of an example of how those themes played out in the program. These questions were asked in focus-group settings. Their feedback was compiled by interns in a collective voice.
In addition to the small focus groups with current members, the content in this toolkit was reviewed by the 2021-2022 Youth Advocacy Program Alumni Fellow. This fellowship is designed specifically for individuals who completed their three years in the program, remained an active alumnus in the Youth Speakers Bureau, and expressed an interest in participating in the development and facilitation of the Youth Advocacy Program. Crucial feedback was given and implemented about the type of emergency support youth advocates are given, additional details about the issue selection process, and how specifically racial biases and issues of equity have been fleshed out over the past few years.