Children and Family Justice Center receives $750,000 award

Jillian Sandler, Campus Editor

Northwestern University Law School’s Children and Family Justice Center has received a $750,000 award that will go toward advancements in the Center’s communication strategy and creation of an endowment.

CFJC received the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in recognition of its work to improve the juvenile justice system. The award was given to 13 nonprofits around the world that use original approaches to conquer wide-ranging issues, according to a University release published Wednesday.

“Center faculty, through their tireless representation and advocacy, have changed juvenile justice in Illinois,” Daniel Rodriguez, dean of NU’s law school, said in the release. “We celebrate this award because it honors the Center’s many accomplishments and will allow it to expand its efforts in the community.”

University President Morton Schapiro also said in the release he was pleased the center received the award.

“The Children and Family Justice Center certainly ‘engages with the world’ — a key pillar of Northwestern’s strategic plan — and we are proud of the MacArthur Foundation’s recognition of the difference the Center is making in juvenile justice,” he said.

CFJC director Julie Biehl said the money would be partly allocated toward creating the Center’s first-ever endowment. Additionally, the money will be put toward forming a communications strategy for the center via online platforms including a website, Facebook page and Twitter account.

“We’re so busy with our jobs representing children and teaching that we don’t publicize our work,” Biehl said. “We’re going to spend the year creating materials and publishing our good work.”

CJFC recently hired Rachel Hoffman (BSJ ’12) to facilitate the organization’s communications efforts through investigative reporting on the juvenile justice system, as well as photo and video updates about the center’s undertakings. She said she has set up social media accounts to post relevant news and updates about the center’s undertakings.

“All of the (cases) are incredibly impactful, all of them are heartbreaking in some way, shape or form, so I think there’s an amazing opportunity to do great journalism around the stuff they’re working with,” Hoffman said.

Biehl said the organization has a three-part mission: to represent individual children in the law, to reform the juvenile justice system and to teach law students how to effectively advocate within the system. She said the center is working on a number of initiatives, including raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction, shortening lengths of paroles for minors and spearheading a “Know Your Rights” campaign.

Biehl said there was no application process for the award and the money received must be used for strategic undertakings rather than programming. According to the release, nonprofits that receive the award must have modest budgets and show innovation and productivity in working in an area related to the values of the MacArthur Foundation. Biehl said she was notified the center won the award in late December.

Hoffman said she was excited this award gave her the opportunity to work on behalf of the center and to bring attention to important issues within the juvenile justice system that are not often examined.

“I think at the end of the day, the children and family justice system could grow a lot more in the public eye,” Hoffman said. “I’m really honored to be given the first opportunity to try to do that for them.”