In 1978, the Youth Law Center (YLC) was awarded a major grant from the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP). It called for YLC to help to implement the recently enacted Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (1974), calling for the removal of children from adult jails, elimination of secure confinement for status offenders, correction of harsh and illegal conditions of confinement, provision of community-based programs for children in juvenile justice, protection of children’s constitutional rights during court proceedings, and elimination of discrimination on the basis of race, sex, and mental or physical disability.
The OJJDP funding provided us with an ambitious mission that has driven much of our work to this day. Staff attorneys carried out juvenile justice reform activities in target states, including litigation, public education and technical assistance to support legislative efforts in the states. Then, in the early 1980’s, the federal government drastically cut its support of legal advocacy, forcing YLC and many other organizations to secure funding through private foundations, corporations and private donors.
With the support of several visionary foundations, YLC weathered this political and economic shift and used the opportunity to broaden its focus to work in the field of child welfare. Coincidentally, the federal Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 was enacted, requiring child welfare agencies make efforts to strengthen and keep families together whenever possible, but also to expeditiously pursue permanency for children for whom that is not an option. This, too, has been an important part of our mission for many years.
As a result of our successful litigation and legislative expertise, by the mid-1980’s, public officials and others began to view YLC as a resource. Our staff were increasingly sought out for technical assistance, training, legal advice and policy analysis in an ever broadening arena of issues. Accordingly, over the years, our core work has expanded to include health care, education law, public funding, child and adolescent development, reducing incarceration, and legal representation of children in public systems. In all of our efforts, we work for increased accountability of the juvenile justice and child welfare systems, and for ongoing professional and public education to ensure systemic improvement.