National Center for Youth Law

About NCYL


The National Center for Youth Law is a non-profit law firm that helps low-income children achieve their potential by transforming the public agencies that serve them.

Our Approach

Headquartered in Oakland, California, NCYL leads high impact campaigns that weave together litigation, research, public awareness, policy development, and technical assistance. The Center’s goal is not to reform one particular system, but to transform the multiple public systems serving vulnerable children – including education, child welfare, public health, behavioral health, juvenile justice, and workforce development – such that they receive the supports they need to advance and thrive.

We take on complex social challenges by weaving together multiple strategies, including:

  • Partnering directly with public agencies (e.g. Child Welfare, Juvenile Courts) to help them rethink and redesign services for youth.
  • Sponsoring and advocating for legislation.
  • Working with the media to expose agencies that are failing kids in their care.
  • Initiating impact litigation to accelerate reform of public agencies.
  • Setting up demonstration sites to test new models of providing services to vulnerable youth.

Key Successes

Since its founding in 1970, NCYL has helped millions of vulnerable children receive the services and supports they need to thrive. Notable victories include:

Juvenile Justice
  • Texas Decriminalization of Truancy (2014): Complaints filed by NCYL with the US Department of Justice helped end Texas’ practice of sending thousands of truant children to adult criminal court where they were given adult criminal convictions.
  • Breed v. Jones (1975): NCYL successfully argued before the US Supreme Court that the constitutional prohibition on double jeopardy is applicable to minors in delinquency proceedings. As a result, juveniles can no longer be tried twice, once in juvenile court and again in criminal court, for the same offense.
Child Welfare
  • David C. v. Leavitt (1993 – 2007): After suing the State, NCYL collaborated with Utah for over a decade to transform its foster care system from one of the worst in the country to a national model.
  • Cleaver v. Wilcox (1974): NCYL secured the first federal court decision establishing a constitutional right to appointed counsel for indigent parents in cases where the state is trying to take away their children based on allegations of abuse or neglect.
  • Psychotropic Medication Campaign (2014 – 2016): California Governor Brown signed three NCYL sponsored bills that ensure foster youth and youth under probation supervision are not prescribed dangerous and unnecessary psychotropic medications.
  • Katie A. v. Bonta (2007): NCYL co-counseled a class-action lawsuit that resulted in California providing foster youth and youth at risk of foster care placement high-quality wraparound mental health services.
  • AAP v. Lungreen & Planned Parenthood v. Van De Kamp (1994 & 1996): Through these cases NCYL established that minors have a constitutional right to privacy under California’s constitution, and that this right includes the right to continue or terminate a pregnancy.
Public Benefits
  • Sullivan v. Zebley (1990): NCYL represented amici before the US Supreme Court, which expanded by more than 450,000 the number of poor children able to obtain both cash benefits and Medicaid coverage through the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program.
  • Fair Housing Act (1988): NCYL’s efforts resulted in families with children being included as a protected class in the Fair Housing Act.
Education of Students in the State’s Care
  • FosterEd: Indiana & FosterEd: Arizona (2012 & 2016): NCYL led the effort to create new statewide, publicly funded foster youth education programs in Indiana and Arizona.
  • Every Student Succeeds Acts (ESSA) (2015): NCYL’s advocacy resulted in ESSA, federal legislation that replaces No Child Left Behind, becoming the first federal education law to prioritize closing the foster youth achievement gap.
  • FosterEd: California (2013): Legislative provisions drafted by NCYL made California the first state to hold itself accountable for improving the educational outcomes of students in foster care and students under probation jurisdiction.

For Youth, Parents and Caregivers

NCYL acts as a resource for children, youth, their families and caregivers. NCYL represents clients in cases that have the potential to impact large numbers of children and young people. We are available to discuss your case and provide referrals if appropriate. In addition, NCYL has developed resources to answer your questions regarding:

  • Teens’ legal rights and responsibilities related to sex, pregnancy, and being a young parent in California.
  • Medical confidentiality and consent
  • The rights of children and youth in foster care
  • Eligibility for government benefits
  • The rights of students enrolled in public school
  • Support for youth exiting the juvenile justice system

NCYL also provides opportunities for young people to participate in the development and implementation of government policies on issues important to youth.

For Attorneys and Advocates

As a state support center, funded in part by the State Bar of California’s IOLTA program, NCYL provides support to qualified legal services programs free of charge. Our services include:

  • Serving as co-counsel on impact litigation
  • Discussing individual client cases
  • Exploring strategic and procedural considerations
  • Researching and analyzing legal issues
  • Providing model pleadings and briefs

NCYL attorneys also assist children’s attorneys and advocates nationwide. We provide litigation support, assist with legislative and administrative advocacy, and publish materials in our focus areas: child welfare/ foster care, education, juvenile justice, mental health care, and reproductive health care. In addition, NCYL has expertise in addressing child trafficking, implicit bias, student access to sports and other extra-curricular activities, and information sharing between institutions. We can provide training in each of these areas, gearing trainings to programs’ specific needs.

Additionally, NCYL maintains the nation’s most comprehensive database of foster care reform litigation.

For Child Serving Professionals

NCYL works directly with many state and local public agencies to develop model practices and policies in the areas of:

  • Information sharing between agencies
  • Addressing implicit bias
  • Interagency coordination and collaboration
  • Minor consent and confidentiality
  • School discipline
  • Use of psychotropic medications on children in foster care
  • Meeting the educational needs of system involved children and youth
  • Creating an inter-agency response to child trafficking

NCYL is available for consultation, technical assistance and training in each of these areas.


Oakland, California (Main) Los Angeles, California
1212 Broadway
Suite 600
Oakland, CA 94612
(510) 835-8098
1960 E. Grand Avenue
Suite 830
El Segundo, 90245
(510) 835-8098


Phoenix, Arizona Washington, D.C.
2025 N. 3rd Street Suite B180
Phoenix, AZ 85004
(510) 835-8098
1313 L Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20005
(202) 868-4781