Hahnel Succeeds O’Toole at NCYL

The National Center for Youth Law hired from within its ranks to replace its longtime leader, John O’Toole, who retired this summer after 35 years.

Jesse Hahnel took the helm as NCYL‘s fifth executive director in its 45-year history. The organization was founded in 1970, and O’Toole joined the staff in 1980. From that year until 1996 it was federally funded by the Legal Services Corporation. The funding was eliminated during the welfare reform deal.

“Jesse has the vision, skills, and most importantly, the passion to advance NCYL’s mission of serving children in need,” said NYCL Board President Peter Edelman, in a statement issued this month. “He is exactly the right person to lead NCYL going forward.”

Hahnel graduated from Harvard University and Stanford Law School, and has been an attorney at NCYL for nearly seven years. Five years ago he founded FosterEd, an NCYL initiative that improves the educational outcomes of foster children.

The organization has straddled the line between assisting governments and taking them to court. One of its initial projects was assisting the Department of Justice to implement the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974.

It has also led or assisted in class-action lawsuits and other broad legal challenges against scores of juvenile justice departments, child welfare agencies and school systems. Its current portfolio includes:

  • A civil rights complaint against Dallas County Truancy Court for the way it prosecutes youth for the status offense.
  • Katie A. v Bonta, a long-running class action case regarding the provision of mental health services for youths who are either in or are at risk of entering foster care in California.
  • TR v Dreyfus, litigation in Washington State related to the placement of juvenile offenders into state mental institutions.
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John Kelly
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John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.