National Center for Youth Law

At the Center

Protecting Children and Youth During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 crisis has created unprecedented challenges for youth and families across the country. The National Center for Youth Law (NCYL) is leading efforts to protect children and ensure they receive the supports and opportunities they need in this time.

Impact Litigation 

Expediting the release of detained immigrant children: In response to the immediate health risk that COVID-19 poses to thousands of detained immigrant children, NCYL filed multiple motions with the federal courts seeking emergency relief. On April 24, United States District Judge Dolly Gee found ORR and ICE in violation of their legal obligations and required them to “make every effort to promptly and safely release” children who have suitable custodians. The court stated: “Under the current extraordinary circumstances in the midst of a pandemic, ORR’s obligation to release minors without unnecessary delay requires moving with greater speed to remove minors from congregate environments where a suitable custodian exists.” In recognizing the gravity of the current situation, the court quoted medical expert Dr. Julie DeAun Graves: “Postponing the release of children in facilities with known COVID-19 exposure is like leaving them in a burning house rather than going in to rescue them and take them to safety.NCYL will continue litigating to ensure the children are released.

Federal Advocacy 

Protecting access to education for students with disabilities: In March, the US Department of Education (USDOE) issued guidance stating that if a school does not provide any educational services to the general student population, it is not required to provide services to students with disabilities. This is wrong as a matter of law and bad policy. NCYL began a communication campaign to raise public awareness. Shortly thereafter, USDOE reversed their guidance. Unfortunately, the recently enacted CARES Act requires Betsy DeVos to recommend to Congress whether provisions of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) should be suspended. Now, NCYL is raising awareness about how the suspension of IDEA provisions is unnecessary and harmful. NCYL staff have been quoted in numerous news outlets, including the New York Times, Ed Source, Huffington Post, and US News & World Report. 

State Advocacy 

Organizing advocates to ensure education stimulus dollars increase equity: The CARES Act makes $13.5 billion in federal aid available to state and local education agencies, and Congress is likely to appropriate more education funding in future legislation. NCYL created and is mobilizing a working group of over 250 advocacy organization representatives from across the country to ensure this funding is used to support education equity, particularly for low-income children, children of color, children with disabilities, English language learner children, children in foster care, homeless children, and children in the justice system.

Ensuring California stimulus funds support students who are particularly vulnerable: NCYL is leading California advocacy efforts aimed at ensuring federal stimulus funding is used to support students in foster care, homeless students, students involved in the justice system, and students with disabilities at both the state and local level. Policy recommendations include requiring the California Department of Education and school districts to report on how new federal funds are used to meet the needs of these students; ensuring school districts engage with marginalized parents and student stakeholders regarding the allocation of funding; increasing funding for district McKinney-Vento homeless youth liaisons, district AB 490 foster youth liaisons, and County Office of Education foster youth services coordinating programs; providing compensatory education to address learning loss; and providing clear guidance on the role and responsibility of each of these programs during the pandemic.

Increasing resources to California’s school-based health centers (SBHC): Many students will return to school suffering from trauma; this is particularly true of students from marginalized communities. Supporting the socio-emotional needs of these students is critical to ensuring they succeed in school. NCYL is leading efforts to secure $10 million to increase the capacity of SBHCs in schools serving our most marginalized students. These funds will ensure SBHCs are able to address the exacerbated trauma students will have as they return to school campuses. NCYL is also advocating for policy changes that will increase the capacity of schools that do not have SBHCs to meet the mental health and social-emotional needs of students when they return to campus.

Increasing public funding for California alternative to detention and reentry programs: As California expedites the release of incarcerated youth in response to COVID-19, local community-based organizations (CBOs) require additional resources to provide services. On behalf of 77 organizations, NCYL is seeking $100 million in funding for the Youth Reinvestment Program, which will support CBOs providing alternatives to detention. NCYL is also advocating to reallocate $45 million in unspent dollars from the 2019-20 budget to expand the capacity of CBOs, public schools, and social services agencies providing youth reentry services.

Improving the outcomes of commercially sexually exploited youth: Children who are commercially sexually exploited are routinely forced into incredibly unsafe, harmful, and violent situations; the COVID-19 pandemic is making those situations more likely, dangerous, and sometimes even fatal. In response, NCYL is advocating for increased and flexible funding for direct service providers and direct assistance for exploited youth, to quickly meet their basic needs; for emergency and long-term funding for housing dedicated to youth impacted by CSE to counteract increased risk caused by homelessness; and for education for youth and families about how to avoid the expected increase in online grooming and exploitation. 

Local Capacity Building in California and Arizona

With offices and staff in Los Angeles, Antelope Valley, Monterey, San Jose, Oakland, West Contra Costa, Phoenix and Tucson, NCYL is:

  • Providing school districts and school boards guidance, training, and technical assistance to ensure their obligations under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, and other key laws are met during the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Advising school districts and school boards on how federal stimulus funding should be used to advance educational equity.
  • Ensuring youth in foster care know how to get their sexual and reproductive health needs met during shelter in place and providing support to child welfare agencies and caregivers to ensure they can support youth in getting these needs met.
  • Creating and sharing resources to help school districts understand the traumatic impact COVID-19 is having on students; how this is likely to impact educational engagement and learning; and what research-based strategies exist to support students’ mental health and well-being.
  • Co-facilitating two new workgroups focused on the needs of marginalized students in Los Angeles County and in the Bay Area and helping the workgroups develop guidance and model policies for use by districts and County Offices of Education.

Emergency Support for Individual Children

Meeting the immediate, emergency needs of hundreds of youth who are homelessness, in foster care, or under probation supervision: NCYL’s 18 education liaisons provide direct support to hundreds of students experiencing homelessness, in foster care, or under probation supervision throughout California and Arizona. During this crisis, these liaisons are:

  • Checking-in regularly with the youth they serve to assess their needs and ensure they and their families have food and other essential items;
  • Ensuring the youth they serve have access to remote learning technologies, mental health supports, and connections to service providers;
  • Providing 1:1 coaching to help youth complete schoolwork and coordinating with their teachers;
  • Supporting the youth the serve to ensure they are able to earn credits and stay on track to graduate; and
  • Partnering with youth and families to create ceremony and celebration of high school graduation.

This page provides quick links to statements and analysis from NCYL, as well as resources we think helpful. We will regularly update this page.