HISTORY OF YOUTH ADVOCACY DIVISION
In 1992, a county pilot project employing an innovative, holistic model of juvenile defense commenced work in Roxbury, Dorchester, and West Roxbury. Within two decades, the Youth Advocacy Project (YAP) became YAD, our state’s first statewide juvenile defender agency.
YAP introduced an interdisciplinary team of advocates that first included Director/attorney Jay Blitzman, staff attorney Josh Dohan, social worker Christine Fiechter, and community liaison Andrea Goode. In 1993, Ann Tobey joined as the in-house clinical psychologist. Their juvenile defense practice sought to promote the healthy development and life success of each client while providing zealous legal advocacy.
The mission was to ensure clients equitable access to services and resources to combat the structural and social inequities confronting inner-city youths of color who disproportionately became YAP clients. The model sought to empower clients and families through a community-based, client-centered approach to juvenile defense.
The YAP team laid the groundwork for today’s YAD. It focused on the life, family, and community of each client. It built alliances and referral networks of mental health and other providers, after-school programs, social work intervention, and violence prevention. By 1995, YAP was recognized for its innovation and effectiveness among the families, communities, and the courts it served. YAP became a formal unit of CPCS that year, representing clients in courts beyond Suffolk County and providing training, resources, and mentorship to juvenile defenders across the state.
When Blitzman was appointed to the juvenile court bench in Middlesex County in 1996, attorney Steve Weymouth led YAP through a critical transition before Dohan became YAP director in 1999. That year, Dohan attended a community workshop on Positive Youth Development (PYD) [LINK], an evidence-based approach to child development that aligned well with the YAP model. YAP soon incorporated a formal PYD approach in its standard of practice.
Education advocacy, alongside tutoring and mentoring, had always been central to YAP’s work. An early study showed 80% of clients had serious school issues. While YAP first partnered with the Children’s Law Center of MA to hire an education attorney, education advocacy demands continued to outpace capacity.
In 2000, YAP created The EdLaw Project (EdLaw) [LINK] to provide education advocacy for clients and low-income youth. The Youth Advocacy Foundation (YAF) [LINK] was formed in 2001 to raise more private funds for EdLaw and other initiatives and to build a stronger public-private partnership with YAP allies.
After 2010, when YAD expanded state-wide, nine regional offices eventually opened, each staffed with lawyers and a social worker to provide every client with a zealously holistic defense. Panels were created to meet further advocacy needs on behalf of clients, including a revocation panel [LINK], an appeals unit [LINK], and a parole unit. [LINK]
Duci Goncalves, who grew up in Roxbury and was a YAP volunteer before entering law school, succeeded Dohan as YAD director in November 2021, and is now Chief Deputy Counsel of YAD. YAD is currently taking further innovative steps in juvenile defense. A priority mandate is to fulfill a three-decade legacy of leadership in the fight to dismantle the structural racism [LINK] that drives young people into the criminal legal system.