Staff Biographies

Jasmine AmonsJasmineAmons

Program Associate, Health

Primary Office: Oakland, CA
Phone: (510) 835-8098, x3026

Jasmine Amons joined NCYL in June 2016 and supports the FosterEd and Health Teams. As a volunteer, she co-hosts East Bay Green Drinks and is a member of Thousand Currents’ Leadership Team. Previously, she worked as the Grants and Development Manager at Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment. She graduated with a BA in History and a minor in Italian Studies from the University of California, Berkeley in 2013.

Merna Antone

Office and IT Manager

Primary Office: Oakland, CA
Email: mantone(at)

Merna Antone joined NCYL in April 2017. She is Office & IT Manager.  She has 20 years’ experience in the managing of information technology operations including large scale, complex projects. Prior to joining NCYL she was the Associate Director of Information Technology for Healthcare Forum/AHA, a national nonprofit that provides educational programs and services to the healthcare community. She also served as an Information Technology Manager at Pivot Learning Partners, a statewide organization that serves 100 districts to improve student achievement among minority students.

Julee Aros-ThorntonJulee Aros-Thornton

Education Liaison, FosterEd: Arizona

Primary Office: Tucson, AZ
Email: jaros.thornton(at)

Julee Aros-Thornton is an Education Liaison with FosterEd: Arizona. She holds an undergraduate degree in family studies from the University of Arizona. She began her career over two decades ago working with delinquent juveniles and their families through the juvenile court, providing case management services to improve educational and delinquent outcomes. She then moved on to provide in-home services to families who had been referred to Child Protective Services. Working with families in their homes gave her a real life understanding of the challenges underprivileged families face day to day. Prior to joining NCYL, she worked in foster care, educating, licensing and supporting foster families to meet the needs of the foster children in their homes. Julee speaks Spanish, providing her the ability to work with Spanish-speaking families, and she also has knowledge of American Sign Language.


Hannah Benton

Senior Attorney,  Juvenile Justice

Primary Office: Oakland, CA
Email: hbenton(at)
Phone: (510) 835-8098, x 3051

Hannah Benton is a staff attorney specializing in juvenile justice reform. At NCYL, Hannah works primarily on dismantling the “school-to-prison-pipeline” through improving children’s access to appropriate educational interventions to prevent court involvement. Hannah’s work particularly focuses on reducing the disparate entry of youth of color into the juvenile justice system and looks at how unconscious bias can perpetuate inequity. Hannah’s work at NCYL includes litigation, administrative complaints, collaborative reform projects, and policy advocacy. Prior to joining NCYL, she was a staff attorney and an Equal Justice America fellow at the Center for Children’s Advocacy (CCA) in Hartford, CT, where she represented clients in obtaining educational and mental health services to mitigate juvenile delinquency involvement. At CCA, Hannah also worked on behalf of children in the juvenile and criminal justice systems to increase system-wide access to diversionary programs, appropriate treatment services and effective re-entry planning. Hannah has been counsel on several successful class administrative complaints resulting in improved educational services for children with disabilities, particularly children with behavioral and mental health disabilities. Hannah led a coalition in securing passage of Connecticut legislation to require immediate readmission to public school for students returning to the community from state juvenile or criminal justice placements. Hannah graduated from Yale Law School and the University of Chicago.

Taylor Chambers

Program Associate, FosterEd

Primary Office:Oakland, CA
Phone: (510) 835-8098, x3029

Taylor Chambers joined NCYL in June 2017 and supports the FosterEd team. She graduated with a B.A. in Political Science and minor in History with a thematic focus on gender from Stanford University in 2016. Originally from Sacramento, CA she has volunteered with various direct service organizations that support women, children and families in Northern California. Most recently, she served students with high needs at a Boston elementary school as an AmeriCorps member and ultimately hopes to pursue a legal career to better advocate on behalf of vulnerable children.

CohenLewis Cohen

Senior Director of Communications

Primary Office: Oakland, CA
Email: lcohen(at)
Phone: (510) 835-8098, x 3045

Lewis Cohen joined NCYL in 2014. He has an extensive background in public policy, advocacy and journalism with a particular focus on education. Lewis is a former Deputy Mayor of Oakland, California and served as the Mayor’s Senior Policy Advisor for Education. He has also worked for the Oakland Public Schools as the Assistant Superintendent for Government, Policy and Legislative Affairs. In addition, Lewis was Executive Director of one of the nation’s best-known school-reform organizations, the Coalition of Essential Schools. Prior to working in the education arena, Lewis worked in television as a producer, and was National Affairs correspondent for Pacifica Radio. He earned his B.A. in Sociology at the University of Michigan.


Kawena Cole

Education Liaison, FosterEd: California

Primary Office: Los Angeles, CA
Email: kcole(at)

Kawena Cole is a Foster Youth Education Liaison for the National Center for Youth Laws Initiative FosterEd. Prior to joining the FosterEd team Kawena worked for the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) as a Children’s Social Worker (CSW) for nearly 7 years. During the last 2 1/2 years with DCFS, Kawena worked in the Foster Youth Education Program. She provided services to youth in high school, creating individualized education case plans and providing advocacy for the youth to access services to ensure positive educational outcomes. Kawena has also spent time as a substitute teacher while transitioning from her work as a CSW. Kawena has earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Psychology, and hopes to use her education and experience working with foster youth to ensure the educational needs of foster youth are being met on the local level, and make efforts for change when necessary on a larger scale.

Neha DesaiNehaDesai

Senior Attorney, Health

Primary Office: Oakland, CA
Email: ndesai(at)
Phone: (510) 835-8098, x 3048

Neha Desai is a Senior Attorney on NCYL’s Health team.  She has been working with and on behalf of vulnerable families for over a decade.  After graduating from Berkeley School of Law in 2006, Neha was a Zubrow Fellow and then a staff attorney at the Juvenile Law Center where she represented children in dependency proceedings, drafted amicus briefs to federal courts, conducted trainings, and served as a member of the legal team litigating the infamous “Kids for Cash” scandal.

Neha has also worked extensively with immigrants and refugees, representing victims of child trafficking, asylum seekers, and battered undocumented women.  Additionally, Neha has worked abroad at NGOs focused on the human rights of women and children.

Before joining NCYL, Neha was the Policy Advisor of Santa Clara County’s Dually-Involved Youth Initiative where she advised and managed a MacArthur Foundation supported reform initiative designed to improve outcomes for youth that touch both the child welfare and juvenile justice system, a significant portion of whom are commercially sexually exploited children.

Amy Dunlap

Education Liaison, FosterEd: New Mexico

Primary Office: Hobbs, NM
Email: adunlap(at)

Amy Dunlap is the Chief Education for the new pilot site in Lea County New Mexico. Prior to joining the FosterEd team; Amy worked for the Children, Youth, and Families Department (CYFD) as an In Home Services Clinician for three years. She provided services to monitor the safety of children and to prevent youth from coming into custody of the state. Prior to working with CYFD, Amy was a supervisor at a non-profit agency in Roswell NM. She oversaw the implementation of grants, ensured program fidelity and managed a staff of seven.

Amy received her Bachelors Degree in Community Health from New Mexico State University in 2002. In 2012, she received her Masters in Social Work from New Mexico Highlands University.  Amy lives in Lovington with her husband John and two children.

Molly Dunn

Deputy Director, FosterEd: Ariozona

Primary Office, Tucson, AZ

Molly Dunn is the Deputy Director of FosterEd: Arizona. Deeply influenced by her own early experience as a foster child, Molly has dedicated her career to improving the education outcomes of system-involved youth. She has engaged in this mission at all levels. As a direct services provider, with Legal Services for Children and the San Francisco Public Defenders’ Office, Molly advocated on behalf of hundreds of youth in special education and school discipline matters. As a clinical instructor at Stanford and Loyola law schools and as a supervisor with Legal Advocates for Children and Youth, she has mentored and guided other advocates to serve system-involved youth. As a policy advocate with the Alliance for Children’s Rights, Molly sought to remove systemic barriers and secure much-needed resources to help youth in foster care achieve success in school and in life. Molly holds a B.A. from Macalester College and a J.D. from Stanford Law School. She is thrilled to be living near her family in her adopted home state of Arizona.

Laila Fahimuddin

Senior Policy Associate, FosterEd: California

Primary Office: Oakland, CA
Email: lfahimuddin(at)
Phone: (510) 835-8098, x 3009

Laila Fahimuddin joined NCYL’s FosterEd team in 2017 where she manages new demonstration sites implementing FosterEd’s practice model, and leverages the lessons learned on the ground for statewide policy change. Prior to joining FosterEd, Laila worked as a research analyst with SRI International’s Center for Education Policy, where she focused on college and career readiness, school funding, social-emotional learning, and public agency partnerships. While at SRI, she managed a federally funded evaluation of a middle school social-emotional program, working in close collaboration with district and school partners. Before her time at SRI, Laila was an organizer with the ACLU of Northern California, where she served as the lead organizer on school-to-prison-pipeline advocacy, including the successful passage of AB 420, eliminating “willful defiance” suspensions for grades K-3. She also led local efforts in a dozen districts across the state to implement the Local Control Funding Formula by training parents, students and community members on core elements of the policy, and building community capacity to participate in local decision making committees. Additionally, she led campaigns related to student free speech, racial profiling by law enforcement, and she created the ACLU of California’s youth activist development program, Engage California. Laila’s passion for youth justice stems from her formative experiences as a student organizer, and a deep-seated belief that impacted communities hold the knowledge and power to build a more just future, and her role is to facilitate making that a reality. Laila graduated cum laude from the University of California, Los Angeles with a B.A. in International Development Studies in 2010.


William L. Grimm

Directing  Attorney, Child Welfare

Primary Office: Oakland, CA
Email: billgrimm(at)
Phone: (510) 835-8098, x 3016

William L. Grimm joined NCYL in 1988 and has been lead counsel for the Center’s class action foster care reform litigation in Arkansas, Utah, Washington, and Clark County (Las Vegas), Nevada.  Bill holds a B.A. from the University of Maryland (1972), and earned his law degree from the same university’s school of law in 1975.  Under his leadership, the Maryland Legal Aid Bureau, Inc. implemented a specialized child advocacy office. For several years prior to joining NCYL, Bill was director of that statewide program.  Bill is widely recognized as one of the country’s leading experts on the problems of children in foster care.  He has published extensively, and speaks and trains regularly on foster care issues.  In 2005, the National Legal Aid and Defender Association (NLADA) awarded him the Kutak-Dodds Prize for his work on behalf of low-income children. In 1994, he was honored for his career of service when he received the American Bar Association’s John Minor Wisdom Public Service and Professionalism Award.

Rebecca Gudeman de OrtizRebecca Gudeman

Senior Director,  Adolescent Health

Primary Office: Oakland, CA
Email: rgudeman(at)
Phone: (510) 835-8098, x 3037

Attorney Rebecca Gudeman is a senior attorney specializing in adolescent health care. She directs NCYL’s adolescent reproductive health project and oversees the project’s website,  Rebecca is author of numerous articles and papers on consent and confidentiality law and trains nationally on these issues.  She earned her B.A., Magna Cum Laude, from Harvard University in 1990, and her J.D. from the UCLA School of Law in 1994. She also holds a Master in Public Administration (1999) from Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.  Prior to joining NCYL, Rebecca was a Professor of Law at the Universdad de las Americas in Mexico City and volunteered with Ashoka, helping the organization select its Latin American fellows.   She began her career with the Children’s Rights Project at Public Counsel in Los Angeles, where she created Public Counsel’s Teen Legal Clinic program. The program was one of the first school-based legal assistance programs in the country.  In 1997, she was named the American Bar Association’s Young Lawyer Child Advocate of the Year.


Frankie Guzman

Director, California Juvenile Justice Initiative

Primary Office: Oakland, CA
Email: fguzman(at)
Phone: (510) 835-8098, x 3055

Attorney Francis (“Frankie”) V. Guzman is a juvenile justice attorney at the National Center for Youth Law. He is working to eliminate the practice of prosecuting and incarcerating children in California’s adult criminal justice system and advocates for alternative sentencing and local treatment for youth charged with serious offenses statewide.

Raised in a poor, mostly immigrant community plagued by crime and drugs, Frankie experienced his parents’ divorce and his family’s subsequent homelessness at age 3, the life-imprisonment of his 16-year-old brother at age 5, and lost numerous friends to violence. At age 15, he was arrested for armed robbery and, on his first offense, was sentenced to serve 15 years in the California Youth Authority. Released on parole after six years, Frankie attended law school and became an expert in juvenile law and policy with a focus on ending the prosecution of youth as adults.

Through partnerships with community organizations and advocacy groups, Frankie has helped lead the effort to reduce the number of youth prosecuted as adults and serving time in adult prisons. Recent successes include SB 260 (2013) & SB 261 (2015) Youth Offender Parole Hearings, and SB 382 (2015) Juvenile Fitness Hearings. Even more recently, Frankie played a significant role in developing the youth justice portion of the Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016 in partnership with the Office of California Gov. Jerry Brown.

Jesse HahnelHahnel

Executive Director

Primary Office: Oakland, CA
Phone: (510) 835-8098, x 3003

Jesse Hahnel is Executive Director of the National Center for Youth Law. Jesse previously served as Founder and Director of FosterEd, a nationally recognized initiative that improves the educational outcomes of students in foster care. Jesse has served as a public school teacher in Washington DC and New York City, as Senior Analyst at the KIPP Foundation, and as an attorney representing at-risk children and youth. He is a recipient of the prestigious Skadden and Mind Trust fellowships. He is father to two wonderful children and husband to an amazing wife.

JenniferHarrisJennifer Harris

Education Liaison, FosterEd: Arizona

Primary Office: Tucson, AZ

Jennifer Harris is an Education Liaison with FosterEd: Arizona. She attended the University of Arizona, majoring in Family Studies. Her interest in child welfare began when she interned with Child Protective Services and continued to develop through her work at Casa de los Ninos children’s shelter. In 2003, Jennifer began her service in the United States Peace Corps in the Pacific country of Vanuatu as a Youth Development Volunteer, working with youth in rural communities to develop programs around gender advocacy, sexual and reproductive health, and education. She remained in Vanuatu after her service, working at a local NGO as Research Manager and Youth Center Manager for 8 years before returning to Tucson. Jennifer’s 18 years of experience in multi-cultural settings working with at-risk children and youth has given her insight in working with children in the foster care system and the unique challenges they face.


Michael Harris

Senior Director, Juvenile Justice

Primary Office: Oakland, CA
Email: mharris(at)
Phone: (510) 835-8098, x 3006

Attorney Michael Harris works on reducing incarceration and racial disparities in statewide juvenile corrections systems.Currently, he leads NCYL’s campaigns to challenge the “school-to-prison pipeline” in Texas and California. Additionally, he works on the issue of implicit bias, and he has delivered presentations to local and national gatherings on the role implicit bias plays in decision making within the school-to-prison-pipeline and the juvenile justice system. Before joining NCYL, Michael served as Deputy Director of the W. Haywood Burns Institute in San Francisco, working on juvenile justice systems reform. Michael has worked in California and Washington to reduce racial disparities in the juvenile justice system using a collaborative process to effect systemic reform. Prior to Michael’s work at the Burns Institute, he was a Staff Attorney and Assistant Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights in San Francisco where he worked on a broad range of civil rights cases.


Pete Hershberger

Director, FosterEd: Arizona

Primary Office: Tucson, AZ

Pete Hershberger is the Director of FosterEd: Arizona. He has worked in juvenile justice, child welfare, and behavioral health in Tucson, Arizona for over 30 years. Pete is a Licensed Professional Counselor who has worked in direct services in institutional, residential and community settings as well as administration. He has supervised both foster care and therapeutic foster care programs. Pete served for eight years in the Arizona House of Representatives, including five years as Chairman of the Human Services Committee. In 2003 he founded the Arizona Children’s Caucus, a bipartisan caucus in the legislature promoting children’s issues and received numerous state and national awards. Pete served for one year as Chairman of the Human Services Committee of the National Conference of State Legislatures and served two years on the Legislative Working Group of the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child. Pete received his B.A. from Colorado College and his M.Ed. from the University of Arizona.

Karla James

Senior Director of Finance and Operations

Primary Office: Oakland, CA
Email: kjames(at)
Phone: (510) 835-8098, x 3031

Karla James is the Director of Finance & Operations. Prior to joining NCYL she was the chief financial officer and chief operating officer at the Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment, a nonprofit that supports organization working for public health, consumer and environmental protection. She also served as the program director for several grantmaking funds at the Foundation including the Consumer Privacy Rights Fund, Consumer Products Fund and the Northern California Environmental Grassroots Fund. Her experience in small business management includes founding and managing a whitewater raft company in Montana. She previously taught high school in Ohio, and has an extensive volunteer background with grassroots social and environmental nonprofits, including Copwatch, a police accountability organization in Berkeley, California. James has a B.S. in Political Science from Texas A&M University.

Anna JohnsonAnna Johnson

Senior Policy Associate, Child Welfare

Primary Office: Oakland, CA
Email: ajohnson(at)
Phone: (510) 835-8098, x 3035

Anna Johnson is the lead policy analyst working on reducing overmedication of foster youth and improving access to community and therapeutic services for youth. With a master’s in public policy from UC-Berkeley, Anna works with young adults and current foster youth to ensure their voices influence policies affecting foster youth. Passion for this work originated from 6 years of classroom experience in under-resourced schools. Prior to working in policy, Anna taught at Urban Promise Academy in Oakland Unified School District for four years, at Potter Thomas Bilingual Academy in Philadelphia, and in Madison, Wisconsin serving homeless youth and families in the CASPER program and witnessed how traumatic experiences, stress, poverty, and environmental factors impact children’s development and relationships. Creating and maintaining a safe, supportive classroom environment was the primary focus of their work as an educator. Anna knows that providing services, care, and attention to youth who live under the daily stress of violence, poverty, and other forms of abuse can help young people build resiliency and thrive in the short and long term. Anna remains proud of her student’s accomplishments and leadership in their communities. Anna dedicates NCYL policy efforts toward partnering with youth and young adults to improve the treatment of young people in schools, communities, homes, and neighborhoods. Anna holds degrees from UC-Berkeley (MPP), UW-Madison (BA-Social Work) and U-Penn (Urban Ed). Follow @AnnaMaureen83 on Twitter.

Poonam JunejaPoonam Juneja

Senior Attorney, Child Welfare

Primary Office: Oakland, CA
Email: pjuneja(at)
Phone: (510) 835-8098, x 3065

Poonam Juneja is a staff attorney focusing on reform of child welfare systems. She previously worked at Public Counsel and the Southern Poverty Law Center, where she fought to end unconstitutional and abusive conditions of confinement in juvenile detention centers and punitive, unlawful school discipline practices. Poonam clerked for the Honorable Marsha S. Berzon of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and the Honorable Claudia Wilken of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California.

Poonam received her B.A. in 2005 from the University of California, Berkeley, and graduated with highest distinction in general scholarship and the departmental citation in legal studies. In 2006, Poonam received an M.Phil in Criminology from the University of Cambridge. Poonam earned her J.D. in 2009 from Yale Law School, where she was an member of the school’s Immigration Legal Services and Advocacy for Children and Youth clinics.

Elizabeth LaferriereLizzy Laferriere

Senior Policy Advocate, Child Trafficking

Primary Office: Oakland, CA
Email: elaferriere(at)
Phone: (510) 835-8098, x 3005

Lizzy Laferriere (she/her/hers) is a Senior Policy Associate with the National Center for Youth Law (NCYL) child trafficking team. She coordinates research, analysis and advocacy. She also co-directs the 50+ member multidisciplinary Commercially Sexually Exploited Children (CSEC) Action Team. Elizabeth comes to NCYL with diverse experience spanning county government, human rights, campaign management, and think tank research. She previously served as legislative lead at the San Francisco Department on the Status of Women. Elizabeth was a 2016 Women’s Policy Institute Reproductive Justice Fellow. She received an MPP from Georgetown University and a BA from Wellesley College.

Arayah LarsonArayahLarson

Volunteer Coordinator, FosterEd: Arizona

Primary Office: Tucson, AZ
Email: alarson(at)

Arayah Larson is the Volunteer Coordinator for FosterEd: Arizona. Arayah comes from a family of educators and is passionate about youth advocacy and educational rights. Arayah attended Warren Wilson College in Asheville, NC and graduated in 2013 with a B.A. in Political Science and Global Studies. She returned to her hometown of Tucson, AZ, after 5 years in North Carolina working with volunteers in political campaigns and organizations devoted to LGBT marriage equality in the South. A consistent and devoted volunteer since age 11, Arayah has long been committed to helping others help! She is a firm believer in giving to the community as a way of growing and succeeding as a person.

Lesli LeGras

Director, Los Angeles Foster Youth Reproductive Access Project

Primary Office: Los Angeles, CA
Email: llegras(at)

Lesli LeGras serves as Director of the Los Angeles Foster Youth Reproductive Access Project, a collective impact initiative with the audacious goal of significantly reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies among foster youth by coordinating efforts to increase their access to reproductive health services and information. Prior to joining NCYL, Lesli directed the Youth Advocate Program, a fellowship program in Oakland for current and former foster youth who provided consumer-driven input to Alameda County DCFS on policies such as AB12 and trained social workers, lawyers, and therapists on best practices for working with system-involved youth. Most recently, Lesli served as Director of Education at the Coalition for Responsible Community Development in South LA, where she led a cross-sectoral team of community partners dedicated to creating an out-of-school to college-completer pipeline for LA’s opportunity youth. She also led efforts to raise over $1M to create, launch, and pilot-test “Project Tipping Point,” a cohort-based academic program designed to accelerate transition-aged foster youth towards postsecondary credentials and family-sustaining wages. A graduate of UCLA and CSU Northridge with degrees in Psychology and Public Administration, Lesli’s laser-focus on galvanizing collective commitment to promoting equity for vulnerable young people is driven by her lived experiences as a woman of Color, born-and-bred South Central Los Angeles resident, and mother to a vivacious toddler.

Minsun Park MeekerMinsun Meeker

Director, FosterEd: California

Primary Office: Los Angeles, CA
Email: mmeeker(at)

Minsun Park Meeker is director of FosterEd: Los Angeles. She brings extensive experience in child welfare program and policy development, implementation, and evaluation. As Outcomes and Evaluation Manager at United Friends of the Children (UFC), an education and housing provider for current and former foster youth in Los Angeles County, she led the organization’s implementation of a framework to better track and evaluate program data and outcomes. Before her time at UFC, Minsun served as the Senior Policy Director for the Child Welfare Initiative (CWI), where she partnered with public and private child welfare agencies to improve housing, employment, mental health, and transition programs and policies for current and former foster youth. Prior to joining CWI, Minsun worked as a Fiscal and Policy Analyst at the California Legislative Analyst’s Office and was responsible for evaluating the fiscal and programmatic impact of legislative and gubernatorial child welfare and labor proposals. She has also worked for the University of Southern California’s Center on Educational Governance; the Los Angeles Commission for Children, Youth, and Families; and Union Station Homeless Services. Minsun holds an MPP from the University of Southern California, and a BS in Economics and a BA in International Studies and German from the University of Pennsylvania.

Andrew Moffett

Data & Technology, Project Manager,FosterEd

Primary Office: Oakland, CA
Email: amoffett(at)

Andrew Moffett is the Project Manager for Data and Technology for NCYL’s FosterEd Initiative. He will continue to enhance and expand on our student support data system, EdTeamConnect (ETC).

Prior to joining NCYL’s FosterEd Team, Andrew has worked on large-scale youth-centered initiatives in New York City and the Bay Area. Andrew is also an AmeriCorps – Volunteer In Service To America (VISTA) alumni and actively engages in various volunteer initiatives that promote and advance his passions for the expansion of access to quality supports for disadvantaged children, families and community members.

Andrea Molina

Senior Education Liaison, FosterEd: Arizona

Primary Office: Tucson, AZ
Email: amolina(at)

Andrea Molina is an Education Liaison with FosterEd: Arizona. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Arizona in 2007. She went on to receive her graduate degree in education from American University in Washington, D.C. where she was a teacher for six years. Andrea has worked with and mentored children of all ages and has deep roots in the Tucson community. The fact that she is bilingual and bicultural has assisted her in bridging gaps within the communities where she has worked. Her understanding of the achievement gap in education and her desire to see an end to it, has led her to a position as a FosterEd Education Liaison.

Allison NewcombeAllison Newcombe

Attorney, Child Trafficking

Primary Office: Los Angeles, CA
Email: anewcombe(at)

Allison Newcombe is an attorney with National Center for Youth Law’s Child Trafficking Team. Allison joined NCYL to help develop policies and procedures to better support and serve survivors of trafficking in LA County. Prior to joining NCYL, Allison worked with the Alliance for Children’s Rights. At the Alliance, Allison built a program that partnered with the dependency and delinquency courts to provide direct civil legal services to survivors of trafficking, with a primary focus on access to education. Allison received her B.S., cum laude, in International Business and Law from Drexel University. She received her J.D. from UCLA School of Law, with a specialization in Public Interest Law and Policy. While in law school Allison worked with the Presiding Judge of the Succeeding Through Achievement and Resilience (“STAR”) Court, a collaborative court that provides specialized services to victims of commercial sexual exploitation. Following law school, Allison was awarded a Skadden Fellowship to study and address the legal needs of commercially sexually exploited children (CSEC) in the child welfare and delinquency systems.

Edward Opton

Of Counsel, Child Welfare

Primary Office: Oakland, CA
Email: eopton(at)
Phone: (510) 835-8098, x 3014

Edward Opton is of counsel to NCYL. He is the first attorney to work long-term with NCYL after retiring from full-time practice. Since January 2007, he has been working principally with Senior Attorney Bill Grimm on Child Welfare issues. A graduate of UC Berkeley School of Law, Opton was an employment and labor lawyer for the University of California from 1981 to 2006. Earlier, in his first post-law school job, he was an associate at Morrison & Foerster in San Francisco. Law is Opton’s second career. A graduate of Yale, he received his Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Duke University. He did research on psychological stress at UC Berkeley in the 1960s and ‘70s and was Associate Dean at The Wright Institute, a graduate school of psychology in Berkeley.

Christine Pauley

Human Resources Manager

Primary Office: Oakland, CA
Email: cpauley(at)
Phone: (510) 835-8098, x 3005

Christine Pauley joined NCYL in June 2017 as the HR Manager. Christine has over 15 years of experience in the legal arena and prior to joining NCYL, spent may years as both an Employment Law Paralegal and Office Manager/Paralegal at Bay Area law firms. Christine has served on the executive board of local non-profit organizations, and as Chairman of committees that serve minority and low-income children and teens. Christine’s interests lie in providing minority, foster, and low-income youth with all resources necessary to become thriving and successful adults.

Christine received her B.A. in Ethnic Studies from the University of California, Berkeley, graduating with honors, obtained her M.B.A in 2011 from Cal State University, East Bay, and holds an HR Certificate. Christine is the mother to two wonderful girls and is an avid horse lover.

PerryMiranda Perry

Senior Program & Communications Associate,
Juvenile Justice & Child Welfare

Primary Office: Oakland, CA
Email: mperry(at)
Phone: (510) 835-8098, x 3046

Miranda Perry joined NCYL in June 2012. She earned her B.A. in Geography in 2006 and B.A. in Political Science in 2008 from Humboldt State University.

Before working for NCYL, Miranda provided administrative support to non-profit organizations including the League of Women Voters of California and Alameda County Meals on Wheels. She remains active with both organizations; serving as a board member for LWV Oakland and a volunteer for Meals on Wheels. Miranda also enjoys volunteering her time as a youth literacy tutor and as a workshop facilitator for incarcerated youth.

Alexandra Santa Ana

Public Service Venture Fund Fellow, Juvenile Justice

Primary Office: Oakland, CA
Phone: (510) 835-8098, x3054

Alexandra Santa Ana is a Public Service Venture Fund Fellow working with the juvenile justice team. During law school Alex interned with Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights, and also participated in the Harvard Education Law Clinic. . Alex was a technical editor on the Harvard Journal on Racial and Ethnic Justice and the Harvard Journal of Law and Gender. She was a co-founder of Students for Inclusion and served on the executive board of La Alianza, Harvard Law School’s Latino student organization. During her summers Alex interned at Bay Area Legal Aid in the Housing Preservation unit and was a 2015 Ford Fellow at Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area where she assisted clients with re-entry issues in the Second Chance Legal Clinic. Alexandra holds a B.A. in Sociology from UC Berkeley and an A.A. in Social and Behavioral Sciences from De Anza College.

SchutteCasey Schutte

Director of Implementation, FosterEd

Primary Office: Santa Cruz, CA
Email: cschutte(at)

Attorney Casey Schutte is an attorney and Director of FosterEd: California. Previously, he was the Project Manager for FosterEd: Santa Cruz County, where he led FosterEd’s efforts to improve the education outcomes of the county’s foster youth and to embed our model into Santa Cruz County’s public agencies. In 2006, Casey received an M.S.W. from the University of Wisconsin Madison and began his work as a child welfare social worker. He returned to school in 2009 to pursue a dual degree in law and public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Casey clerked at NCYL in the summer of 2010 and graduated with his J.D./M.P.P. in May 2013.

Grace Spulak

Director, FosterEd: New Mexico

Primary Office: Lovington, NM
Email: gspulak(at)

Attorney Grace Spulak is an attorney and the Director of FosterEd: New Mexico. Before coming to FosterEd, Grace worked at Pegasus Legal Services for Children in Albuquerque, NM where she acted as guardian ad litem and youth attorney to children and youth in foster care, represented youth in emancipation cases, and worked with homeless and runaway youth on a variety of issues. Grace is also active in policy and legislative work related to children and youth throughout New Mexico. Grace is certified as a Child Welfare Law Specialist by the National Association of Counsel for Children. She received her J.D. from Harvard Law School and was admitted to the New Mexico Bar in 2008.

Jason Sutton

Business Manager

Primary Office: Oakland, CA
Email: jsutton(at)
Phone: (510) 835-8098, x 3020

Jason Sutton joined NCYL as the Business Manager in May 2016. He has over twenty years experience working with a variety of nonprofits around the bay area including: Earth Share of California, Housing Trust of Santa Clara County, LSB Leakey Foundation, and the Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment. Jason has a B.S. in Conservation and Resource Studies from UC Berkeley.

Michelle TraimanMichelle Traiman

Senior Director, FosterEd

Primary Office: Oakland, CA
Phone: (510) 835-8098, x 3056

Michelle (Francois) Traiman is Director of NCYL’s Foster Youth Education Initiative (Foster Ed). Traiman brings more than 20 years of experience in the non-profit and philanthropy sectors, as well as substantial expertise in child welfare and education. Most recently, she served as the Associate Director of Child Welfare with the Stuart Foundation, where she led a major initiative to improve education outcomes for foster youth across California. Her life’s work has been focused on helping young people realize the vastness of their potential and supporting systems change efforts that put the needs of youth at the center of policies and practices. Michelle’s life and work experience span a broad spectrum: as an artist, stage director, fundraiser, community activist, strategic planner and program director – all the while as a passionate advocate for young people and families. Her superpower is finding out what is uniquely awesome about people, lives in San Francisco with her amazing husband, Cliff and step-son Theo and holds a Bachelor of Arts from Macalester College in Minnesota.

Atasi Uppal

Attorney, FosterEd & Juvenile Justice

Primary Office: Oakland, CA
Email: auppal(at)
Phone: (510) 835-8098, x 3066

Atasi Uppal is an attorney on NCYL’s Juvenile Justice and FosterEd teams. She leads program and policy advocacy to improve the education outcomes of youth in the juvenile justice system, and much of this advocacy aims to support youth who are living in the community and supervised by Probation. Atasi also provides training and support to off-site FosterEd staff, who provide direct services to system-involved youth, and she assists with juvenile justice-focused litigation.
Prior to joining NCYL, Atasi was a Trial Attorney at the Committee for Public Counsel Services in Massachusetts, where she represented low-income children and parents in state custody, termination of parental rights and status offense cases. Atasi received her B.S. in Brain, Behavior and Cognitive Science and her J.D. from the University of Michigan. At Michigan Law, Atasi was an Executive Editor for the Michigan Journal of Race & Law and worked at legal services organizations focused on child welfare, special education and juvenile justice.

Angela VázquezAngela Vazquez

Associate Director, FosterEd: California

Primary Office: Los Angeles, CA
Email: avazquez(at)

Angela Vázquez brings to her work a passion for ensuring equity for vulnerable youth from birth through young adulthood, especially as life opportunities are impacted by trauma and instability. She has worked with young women living in a group home and organized young adults with mental illness as a graduate student for two years, giving her a practical and community-driven perspective to policy and systems work. A summer at Los Angeles Universal Preschool highlighted the importance of reaching vulnerable kids early – a commitment that she continued at Advancement Project as a Policy Analyst for several years, convening statewide early care and education stakeholders, and simultaneously facilitating policy development and implementation discussions for very young children in foster care in Los Angeles County. Most recently, she led Advancement Project’s partners on the Coalition for Educational Equity for Foster Youth in support of Los Angeles Unified School District’s investments and efforts to serve students in foster care. Angela currently serves as Board Co-Chair of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network — Los Angeles where she hopes to build the next generation of social justice leaders in LA. Angela received her MSW concentrating in Community Organizing, Planning, and Administration from the University of Southern California after graduating cum laude from Claremont McKenna College with a BA in Psychology.


Rachel Velcoff Hults

Deputy Director of Programs, FosterEd

Primary Office: Oakland, CA
Phone: (510) 835-8098, x 3052

Attorney  Rachel Velcoff Hults is an attorney and Chief Operating Officer for NCYL’s Foster Youth Education Initiative (FosterEd). She previously spent two years serving as Project Manager for FosterEd: Santa Cruz County.

Prior to joining NCYL, Rachel worked at Bay Area Legal Aid, where she focused on public benefits, health access, and youth issues, including foster care benefits and access to education. Previously, she was a litigation associate at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP in Washington, D.C.

Rachel received her B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania in 2005 and her J.D. from Stanford Law School in 2008. At Stanford, Rachel was a clinical student in the Youth and Education Law Project and co-president of Stanford StreetLaw, a legal education program for incarcerated and at-risk Bay Area youth.

Christy Wagner

Director of Student Centered Engagement, FosterEd: Arizona

Primary Office: Arizona
Email: cwagner(at)
Phone: (602) 316-2363

Dr. Christy Wagner is the Director of Youth Center Engagement for FosterEd: Arizona. She has worked in education field for over 20 years. Christy is a Licensed Administrator and Educator who has served the early childhood, K-12 and postsecondary communities. She has an expertise in the areas of special education, gifted education, and with English language learners. Christy is a member of the National Governors Association Early Care and Education Committee. As a licensed foster care provider and adoptive parent Christy is passionate about advocating for youth and their educational rights. Christy received her B.A., M. Ed., and Ed. D from Northern Arizona University.


Kate Walker Brown

Director, Child Trafficking

Primary Office: Oakland, CA
Email: kwalker(at)
Phone: (510) 835-8098, x 3050

Attorney Kate Walker Brown is the Director of Child Trafficking at the National Center for Youth Law. Her career has been devoted to examining the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) in the U.S. and its intersection with the child welfare system. She currently serves as Project Director for California’s CSEC Action Team charged with improving the services and supports for exploited and at-risk children. She has partnered with several counties to develop and implement interagency protocols to effectively serve CSEC, including Los Angeles’ Law Enforcement First Responder Protocol. Walker Brown was the primary author of, “Ending the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children: A Call for Multi-System Collaboration in California.” She has provided training throughout the country and participates in national coalitions to address this issue. She received her undergraduate degree in Public Policy Analysis from Pomona College and her J.D. from University of Iowa College of Law.

Leecia WelchLeecia Welch

Senior Director, Child Welfare

Primary Office: Oakland, CA
Email: lwelch(at)
Phone: (510) 835-8098, x 3023

Attorney Leecia Welch is an attorney and the Senior Director of Child Welfare at NCYL, specializing in child welfare, mental health, and education issues. She has litigated numerous cases in California, Washington, and Utah that have resulted in substantial victories for children.  She was lead counsel on David C. v. Huntsman, a class action lawsuit in Utah that resulted in significant improvements to Utah’s foster care system. She  was also on NCYL’s litigation team in Henry A. v. Willden, which resulted in a $2 million settlement for youth in the Clark County (Las Vegas) foster care system. In addition, Leecia oversees several projects to improve the educational opportunities of youth in foster care in the Bay Area, including the training of law students at UC Berkeley School of Law to become educational representatives for youth in foster care. She has also taught a class at Berkeley Law focusing on child welfare reform through impact litigation. Leecia was awarded the 2007 Child Advocacy Award by the ABA Young Lawyers Division. Prior to joining NCYL in 2004, Leecia was an associate in the litigation department at San Francisco’s Morrison & Foerster LLP, and spent three years focusing her time nearly exclusively on Williams v. State of California, a class action aimed at improving California’s public school system. Leecia earned her J.D. Magna Cum Laude from Loyola University Chicago School of Law in 1996. She was an editor of the Loyola University Chicago Law Journal, and the Children’s Legal Rights Journal. She earned her undergraduate degree from Northwestern University with distinction and Phi Beta Kappa.

Jason WurtzJasonWurtz2

Development Manager

Primary Office: Oakland, CA
Email: jwurtz(at)
Phone: (510) 835-8098, x 3033

Jason Wurtz joined NCYL in March 2016. He earned his B.S. in Finance from Arizona State University and his M.S.W. from University of California, Berkeley. He has over 13 years of professional experience, including finance and marketing roles at some of the world’s largest companies (e.g. KPMG, Wells Fargo Bank, Nestle). He has also worked in fundraising and marketing for non-profits in the health care, education, and asset-building sectors. Most recently, he served as Marketing and Fundraising Manager at Ravenswood Family Health Clinic where he managed three annual fundraisers, supervised development of two websites, and was responsible for online and offline communications to 5,000+ donors and supporters.