Mission & History

The James B. Moran Center for Youth Advocacy provides low income Evanston youth and their families with integrated legal and social work services to improve their quality of life at home, at school, and within the Evanston community.

Our goal is to provide Evanston youth and their families with the tools to make positive life choices, the support to successfully emerge from a challenging legal situation, and the ability to thrive in the local community as productive citizens. To that end, our programmatic approach focuses on legal representation, social work services, youth advocacy, and restorative justice services.

Since its founding in 1981, the Moran Center has been a champion and advocate for thousands of low-income youth in need of an advocate. As the challenges and needs of our clients have evolved over time, so has our programs and services. In 2017, the Moran Center completed a challenge grant that provided financial support to go even deeper in responding to the legal and social work needs in our community. Below is a timeline of how our organization has responded to the needs of our clients and of our community and a link to our vision for 2017 and beyond and how we will strive to meet the Justice Challenge. 

⇒ 1976 – Moran responds.

The untimely death of a young man in police custody prompted Alderman James B. Moran to call for a local study, which revealed the inadequate representation of low-income residents in Evanston. The findings compelled Alderman Moran to establish the Evanston Defender Project in 1976 to provide quality, community-based legal representation to youth who came into contact with the criminal justice system.

⇒ 1981 – Moran responds.

In recognition of the complex needs of youth served by the Evanston Defender Project, Judge Moran incorporated the Evanston Community Defender Office, Inc. (“ECDO”) in 1981 to innovatively provide integrated legal and social work services to address issues affecting children’s development at home and in the community.

⇒ 2009 – Moran responds.

In 2009, ECDO established the Expungement Help Desk at the Skokie Courthouse to address an unmet legal need by our clients’ families – criminal record relief. ECDO started the Help Desk to increase educational, employment and housing opportunities for adults, thereby creating more stable homes for children in our community. 

⇒ 2010 – Moran responds.

The James B. Moran Center for Youth Advocacy, renamed in 2010 following the passing of Judge Moran, began to assist our juvenile delinquency clients in exercising their educational rights by launching the Special Education Legal Advocacy (SELA) Project with the goal of further stemming the school-to-prison pipeline. Today, the SELA Project serves all low-income families in Evanston struggling to access educational services – supporting children transitioning from pre-school to kindergarten, children with autism struggling to make yearly progress in middle school, or youth already caught in the criminal justice system.

⇒ 2011 – Moran responds.

Seeing too many youth referred to court for possession of small amounts of cannabis, the Moran Center advocated in 2011 for decriminalizing possession of cannabis under 10 grams in Evanston.  Upon passage of the local ordinance, the Moran Center stepped up to coordinate community service hours and provide counseling for youth diverted from the courts.

In representing children with special needs in the schools, the Moran Center saw up close our local schools’ over reliance on exclusion as a consequence for misbehavior. In 2011, the Moran Center started the first alternative-to-suspension program at Evanston Township High School to keep kids in school and off the streets.  Our “Voices, Ideas, and Perspectives” (“VIP”) Program uses a holistic approach to teach anger-management skills, conflict resolution and prevention strategies with the goal of reducing suspension days. In the 2015-16 school year, fifteen 4th and 5th grade students at Oakton Elementary School were introduced to the age-adjusted skill-based programming.       

⇒ 2013 – Moran responds.

After starting the Expungement Help Desk in 2009, the Moran Center discovered that many Evanston residents did not qualify to expunge and/or seal their criminal records. In response, the Moran Center started the Certificate of Rehabilitation Initiative in 2013 to support residents applying for grants of clemency, as well as certificates that expand their opportunities for employment in the healthcare field and other occupations that require a professional license. Since starting the program, more than 300 Evanston residents have been served.

⇒ 2017 – Moran responds.

With growing distrust between law enforcement and youth of color, the Moran Center, in partnership with the Evanston Police Department, launched Project Bridge in 2017 to repair and foster healthy relationships. Project Bridge will bring teenagers and officers together in social and community building activities in an effort to (1) break down stereotypes, (2) foster communication between these groups, and (3) develop relationships of trust.

⇒ 2018 – Moran is responding!

On April 4, 2018, the Moran Center launched its school-based civil legal clinic at Evanston’s Chute Middle School. The clinic provides free information and legal assistance on a wide variety of non-criminal topics including: adoption/guardianship, family law, housing, public benefits, immigration, bankruptcy, and consumer protection. The impetus of the clinic is to “go deeper” in meeting the needs of families with school-aged children.

Annually, low-income households in Illinois experience an average of 1.7 legal civil problems per year, unfortunately, however, legal services are only available to 1 out of 6 legal aid applicants (16.7%). Co-locating the clinic within the Chute community will help to address the justice gap that puts children at risk of disengaging from school, substance abuse, mental health challenges, and even incarceration.