Youth Advocacy Foundation


Protecting Children for Decades

What we do

The Youth Advocacy Foundation (YAF) was established in 2001. We are the non-profit arm of the Massachusetts juvenile public defender agency: the Youth Advocacy Division (YAD) of the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS).

For nearly twenty years, we have been working to protect and defend Massachusetts' most vulnerable youth. Some of our key successes include:

  • Changing how Massachusetts youth interact with the criminal justice system;

  • Fighting for the establishment of regional juvenile public defender offices in Massachusetts;

  • Advocating in favor of raising the age to be tried as an adult to eighteen years of age;

  • Calling attention to the grave injustice that is sentencing juveniles to life without parole.

There is an acute relationship between the juvenile justice and education systems. We see, over and over, that when children drop out of the educational system they end up in the court system. That's why the EdLaw Project is one of our key initiatives. The EdLaw Project is a team of lawyers who provide education advocacy to court-involved youth. They also train lawyers, parents, and administrators statewide in expert education advocacy. Since EdLaw's formal inception in January 2000, EdLaw attorneys have directly advocated for the educational rights of over 1800 Massachusetts youth. You can read more about the Edlaw project here.

We have realized, however, that as a small team based in Boston, our impact through direct education advocacy and legal representation will still leave the thousands more systems-involved youth without this crucial resource. Thus, to broaden our impact statewide, we have shifted our focus from providing direct representation to focus on expanding the network of those trained in education advocacy, primarily through providing training, mentoring, and capacity building to youth advocates--in particular juvenile public defenders--across Massachusetts. We're changing the standards of the statewide juvenile bar to include education advocacy for the 20-25,000 youth who interact with the court system each year in Massachusetts.

Our staff


Marlies Spanjaard, Executive Director
Michele Scavongelli, Deputy Director
Eliza States, Operations and Development Coordinator

EdLaw project

Marlies Spanjaard, Director of Education Advocacy
Rosa Cortez, Rhodes Fellow/Staff Counsel
Elizabeth Levitan, Skadden Fellow/Staff Counsel
Erin Hehn O'Sullivan, Senior Counsel
Michele Scavongelli, Senior Counsel


Our Board

Laura Bickel
Philip J. Catanzano
Jeremy Cohn, Emeritus
Joshua Dohan, President
Amy Feinman, Clerk
Theresa Flaherty, Vice President
LaKeisha M. Gandy
Vanessa Hernandez
Steven J. Pacini
Katherine Hall Page
Krishna Ramaswamy
Tim Sindelar
Bridget Treco