Leecia Welch, the National Center for Youth Law’s senior director of legal advocacy and child welfare, has been awarded the Janet Reno Endowment Women’s Leadership Award.
The award recognizes women who, like former Clinton-era Attorney General Janet Reno, fight for children’s rights, particularly those involved in the child welfare or juvenile justice systems. First awarded in 2017, the award is affiliated with Georgetown University’s Center for Juvenile Justice Reform.
The inaugural winner was Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, whose life’s work and mentorship, Welch said in her acceptance speech, inspired her to make a career in children’s law, which she called tough but rewarding and inspiring.
Of all the matters the Oakland, California-based National Center for Youth Law has been involved with, Welch said she is most proud of the center’s role as plaintiff’s advocate in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1993 decision in the Flores case, which set minimum standards for the care of immigrant children in the federal government’s custody. The youth law center continues to hold the government’s feet to the fire on this issue through the Flores settlement.
The Flores settlement requires the government to release children from detention without unnecessary delay to a parent or adult relative, or state-licensed juvenile programs. If temporary detention is deemed in the child’s best interest, the government must provide an age-appropriate setting with few restrictions, the ability to contact family and appropriate standards of care and comfort, including food, water and medical care.
In her speech earlier this month, Welch made a point of noting that the Biden administration’s housing of children currently caught up in border issues is “unacceptable,” while saying things have “improved somewhat” since the immigration-hostile Trump administration left office.
Welch said she was surprised and proud to have won the Women’s Leadership Award. She was nominated by center Executive Director Jesse Hahnel without her knowledge.
It’s not Welch’s first professional recognition. She won the 2007 Child Advocacy Award by the American Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division. She has been with the nonprofit National Center for Youth Law since 2004, according to her bio.