The Youth Advocacy Foundation (YAF), the nonprofit arm of the Massachusetts juvenile public defender agency, has been named the 2020 winner of the Reginald Heber Smith Award for Excellence in Legal Services.
The award, presented by Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, goes to an organization that has exhibited innovation and excellence in legal advocacy. YAF will receive the award at the Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly 2020 Leaders in the Law event on March 5.
“We are incredibly honored to be recognized by Mass Lawyers Weekly for the work that we do to ensure that Massachusetts’ most vulnerable kids have access to representation when they are being excluded from school and/or not receiving the special education services they need in order to succeed,” said Marlies Spanjaard, executive director of the Youth Advocacy Foundation. “We hope that this award will provide us the opportunity to raise awareness to the educational inequities that exist in our schools and the huge societal benefit of shutting down the school to prison pipeline.”
Through zealous legal representation and community-based services, YAF fights to decrease the risk of chronic court involvement and to increase the chances that young people will grow into healthy, thriving adults.
YAF’s innovative EdLaw Project has been in existence since 2001 and has provided direct representation to nearly 2,000 children. Through the EdLaw Project, court-appointed attorneys across the state receive specialized training and support to help them incorporate education advocacy into their practice.
EdLaw attorneys are organized by region and support the 1,000-person statewide juvenile bar, which represents kids involved in child welfare cases and the juvenile justice system. As a result of the EdLaw Project and its attorneys, children across the state have received advocacy that has allowed them to remain in school and receive the services they need.