Youth Law Center Carves Paths to College for Justice-Impacted Youth
At 20, Jacqueline Rodriguez found herself at a critical junction in her life. If she continued on her path, the future looked bleak. Jacqueline was pushed out of high school without a diploma, and now, as a mother of two with a history of involvement in the juvenile justice system, the statistics weren’t on her side.
“I wanted to avoid prison and to better my children’s future, so I chose higher education,” Jacqueline, now 26 years old, says.
Youth Law Center (YLC), a legal advocacy nonprofit with a 40-year track record of using the law to advance justice and create opportunities for vulnerable youth in the foster care and juvenile justice systems, has successfully advocated for state policies that support college education for juvenile justice-impacted students like Jacqueline.
“Education is one of the most effective strategies to keep youth out of juvenile detention and the juvenile and adult justice systems; however, college is often completely out of reach for these youth,” says Jennifer Rodriguez, YLC’s Executive Director.
Jacqueline enrolled in the College of San Mateo – and was connected to a program, Project Change, providing wrap-around services, resources, and community for justice-impacted young people. YLC successfully advocated for policies and state resources that created similar programs across the state to serve thousands of other students in order to position community colleges as alternatives to incarceration.
“Project Change changed my life for the better. I had so much support, so much community,” Jacqueline says. “Now, I am graduating from UCLA and applying to law school and hope to become an attorney to advocate for other youth like me.”
YLC’s body of advocacy work over the last four decades has impacted the lives of countless children in juvenile justice and foster care, including the closure of dangerous youth prisons and institutions, and outlawing the practice of sending youth to out-of-state institutions where youth have died and been seriously injured.
YLC celebrated another advocacy milestone in June of 2022 when Governor Gavin Newsom signed the state budget, approving a historic ongoing annual investment of $15 million to fund programs at community colleges that specifically support youth impacted by the juvenile justice system.
“YLC is leading the way towards a future where every student has opportunities like Jacqueline,” Jennifer says.
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Executive Director: Jennifer Rodriguez
The Youth Law Center advocates to transform foster care and juvenile justice systems across the nation so every child and youth can thrive.
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YLC is, quite simply, effective. The team, led by Jennifer Rodriguez, is top notch, bringing together legal expertise, lived experience, a commitment to being youth-centered, and the advocacy chops to effect systemic change. A recent example is the advocacy around out-of-state placements for foster youth. YLC researched 16 facilities housing CA kids and found abuse, neglect, appalling conditions, and rights violations. YLC’s advocacy campaign resulted in the State of CA halting admissions to those facilities and beginning the process to decertify them in favor of family-based placements. Systems change work takes time but is deeply satisfying, and why the Foundation continues to support YLC.
The Youth Law Center is truly a cornerstone organization, successfully building a network of nonprofit and public sector advocates committed to promoting pathways to and through postsecondary education for youth connected to the juvenile justice system. By fostering links between the probation system and California’s higher education institutions, YLC and its policy advocacy strategy have advanced the notion that justice reform must meaningfully include youth. The team at Youth Law Center is a valuable thought partner to Cal Wellness as we consider our investments to help improve the wellbeing of youth who are too often ignored.
Give to Create Opportunity for Justice-Impacted Youth
Donations to the Youth Law Center will directly support its advocacy to transform foster care and juvenile justice systems so that every young person has access to postsecondary education.
“With additional funding, we can expand our advocacy to ensure that more youth become tomorrow’s leaders,” says Jennifer Rodriguez, Youth Law Center’s Executive Director.
To illustrate the important impact of donations:
•A $1,000 gift would allow YLC to invest in the leadership of a justice-impacted youth to work in partnership with advocates on policy reforms.
•$20,000 is enough to fund an entire advocacy leadership academy to give young people the skills they need to change the very systems that so often hurt them.
•With $100,000, YLC could launch a campaign to secure additional state investment in postsecondary education for justice-impacted youth in order to ensure equitable futures for tens of thousands of vulnerable young people.
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