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NACC Promoting Excellence Awards

The National Association of Counsel for Children honors the champions among us who raise the bar and set the standard for excellence in children's legal advocacy.  NACC’s Promoting Excellence Awards are presented annually to individuals and institutions making significant contributions to the rights and well-being of children through excellence in legal representation.  


Congratulations to this year's award recipients!


Outstanding Legal Advocate: Michael Dsida

The Outstanding Legal Advocate Award is presented to individuals demonstrating excellence in legal or policy advocacy throughout their career in child welfare.  Award recipients have significantly promoted the legal rights, well-being, and opportunities of children in the child welfare system, and have elevated standards of child welfare practice in their community.


As Deputy Chief Counsel of the Committee of Public Counsel Services’ Children and Family Division, Michael Dsida works to ensure that each and every child involved in the system has a skilled and zealous legal advocate.  When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Mr. Dsida's first priority was to ensure that children remained in contact with their families.  He spearheaded efforts that resulted in a lawsuit against the Department of Children and Families that highlights DCF’s failure to make efforts to preserve family visits during the pandemic.  The leadership of the Children and Family Division and Chief Public Defender Anthony Benedetti nominated Michael Dsida for this award for his work over the last 30 years to provide meaningful access to justice for children and families in the child welfare system.  “The Children and Family Law division has flourished under Mike’s single-minded efforts to assure constant improvement in the provision of legal services to this vulnerable population.”  Prior to joining CPCS in 2006, Mr. Dsida was faculty at Loyola University Chicago School of Law where he established and directed the Civitas Child Law Clinic.  Michael began his career as an Assistant Public Guardian in Cook County, IL.  As his nominators write, “The children of Massachusetts who are caught up in the child welfare system receive the zealous advocacy they deserve because of Mike and his single-minded devotion.”  NACC recognizes and honors Michael Dsida for his longstanding advocacy and his work to elevate standards of practice for legal representation in Massachusetts.  Click here to read the nomination letter for Michael Dsida.


Outstanding New Lawyer: Elisabeth Mering

The Outstanding New Lawyer Award is presented to individuals practicing law five years or less who have demonstrated excellence in legal representation and demonstrated early leadership and initiative in advancing child welfare law, practice, or policy in their community.


Elisabeth Mering represents Alaska Native tribes in child welfare proceedings.  In her three and a half years at the Alaska Legal Services Corporation, Liz Mering has set a high standard for legal representation that pushes her peers and other legal parties to do better in their role for the families involved.  Whether it is ensuring timely supports to a kin caregiver, demanding reasonable accommodations for disabled parents under the Americans with Disabilities Act, or challenging court administrative practices that have had the effect of excluding tribes and rural, predominantly Alaska Native, participants in legal proceedings, Ms. Mering challenges the foregone, uncreative solutions that would otherwise be accepted in order to advocate for the best possible outcome and compliance with the letter and spirit of the law.  Ms. Mering is diligent in following up with every identified need and in identifying patterns, practices, and systemic failures that affect families in the system.  NACC recognizes and honors Elisabeth Mering for her outstanding legal advocacy and her work to effect meaningful change for Alaska Native families.  Click here to read the nomination letters for Elisabeth Mering.


Outstanding Children's Law Office/Agency: Children's Law Center of California

Children's Law Center of California Award Recipient Remarks

The Outstanding Children’s Law Office Award is presented to a law office or agency which has exemplified excellence in law office/agency practice and management on behalf of children in the child welfare system.  The office exemplifies best practices for organizational representation as described in the Children’s Law Office Handbook and has demonstrated leadership, influence and impact in children’s legal advocacy and child welfare law in their state/jurisdiction.


The Children’s Law Center of California opened its doors in 1990 with just six attorneys to represent children alleged to be victims of abuse and neglect.  There was no right to counsel for children, no training manual, and no recognized standards of representation.  Today, with a staff of 500, CLC is the largest children’s legal services organization in the nation, serving over 33,300 children and families in Los Angeles, Sacramento, and Placer counties.  CLC has been at the forefront of establishing a model of high-quality, client-focused, multidisciplinary legal representation, including specialists with expertise in education, mental health, reproductive health, immigration, expectant and parenting youth (EPY), and dual jurisdiction youth. CLC provides outstanding training and support of attorneys, social work investigators, specialists, and support staff, including staff with lived experience across all categories of employment. As a leading voice on child welfare policy and system reform, CLC has successfully sponsored 46 pieces of legislation to improve outcomes for foster youth. Throughout the pandemic and the protests CLC's doors have remained open, the team mobilizing quickly to ensure the well-being of their clients, including filing motions to challenge court orders disallowing family visits without exception and setting limited court schedules.
As stated by Jennifer Rodriguez, Executive Director of the Youth Law Center, “CLC’s dedication and attention to the needs of their clients does not end with legal or legislative victories…their attorneys work tirelessly to help family members become approved foster parents, assist clients with accessing the resources of extended foster care, and enforce the rights of crossover youth to continued case planning and necessary supports. They are always working to ensure the prioritization of their clients’ needs at the systemic and individual level – seeking changes both big and ones that seem small to everyone but their clients.”
Click here to read the packet of nineteen letters supporting the nomination of the Children’s Law Center of California, including the California Youth Connection, California State Senator Jim Beall, Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis, California Assembly Member Eloise Gomez Reyes, California Welfare Directors Association, and Los Angeles Dependency Lawyers. 


President's Award: Young Center for Immigrant Children's Rights

Young Center Award Recipient Remarks


This is the inaugural year for the President's Award, founded by our current President, Candi Mayes.  The President's Award recognizes excellence in ally advocacy organizations working to advance the legal rights of children and families.  President Mayes led NACC's opposition to the separation of children and families at the border.  NACC released two statements opposing the separation of children and families at the border 2018 and 2019 in partnership with the Young Center for Immigrant Children's Rights.

The Young Center for Immigrant Children's Rights was selected for the President's Award due to their relentless advocacy on behalf of immigrant children and youth in both child advocates and policy advocates. Young Center attorneys and social workers, along with bilingual volunteers, are appointed as Child Advocate (guardian ad litem) by the Department of Health and Human Services.  Their role is to advocate for their best interests—from custody and release to the ultimate decision about whether the child will be allowed to remain in the U.S. The Young Center also works to change immigration policy and practice so that immigrant children are recognized first as children and their best interests are considered in every decision.  Click here to learn more about the Young Center for Immigrant Children's Rights.


Award History

Year Award


2019 Distinguished Achievement David Kelly
2019Outstanding Children's Law Office
Childrens Attorneys Project, Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada
2018 Outstanding Legal Advocate Barbara Elias-Perciful
2018 Outstanding Young Lawyer Tara Grigg Garlinghouse
2017 Outstanding Legal Advocate Jill Johnson
2017 Outstanding Young Lawyer Jane Hogan
2016 Outstanding Legal Advocate Catherine Krebs
2016 Outstanding Young Lawyer Margaret Lois Riley
2015 Distinguished Achievement Donald N. Duquette
2015 Outstanding Young Lawyer Stephanie Klitsch
2014 Lifetime Achievement Award John Ciccolella
2014 Outstanding Young Lawyer Daniel Senter
2013 Outstanding Legal Advocate Angela Vigil
2013 Outstanding Young Lawyer Regina Quaynor
2012 Outstanding Legal Advocate Karen J. Freedman
2012 Outstanding Young Lawyer Nancy Goodman, Jenna Statfeld
2011 Outstanding Young Lawyer Betsy Fordyce
2010 Outstanding Legal Advocate Jack Sampson
2010 Outstanding Young Lawyer Diana Rugh Johnson
2009 Outstanding Legal Advocate Karen L. Worthington
2007 Outstanding Legal Advocate Katherine Mullen and the Disability Rights Legal Center
2006 Outstanding Legal Advocate Sheila L. Brogna
2005 Outstanding Legal Advocate Angela H. Orkin
2004 Outstanding Legal Advocate Shannan Wilber
2004 Cahn Award Robert Schwartz
2003 Outstanding Legal Advocate Teresa Spahn and University of Miami Children and Youth Law Clinic
2002 Career Achievement Award John B. Ciccolella
2002 Outstanding Legal Advocate Hon. Nina R. Hickson and Suzin M. Bartley
2001 Outstanding Legal Advocate Rita Swan
2000 Outstanding Legal Advocate Hon. Zinora M. Mitchell-Rankin
1999 Outstanding Legal Advocate Hon Patricia Macias, Dianne Nunn and Sarah Hawxby
1998 Outstanding Legal Advocate Robert E. Shepherd, and Stephen A. Dixon and The Children’s Law Center, Inc.
1997 Outstanding Legal Advocate Debra Y. Lulf, Mark Hardin and Juvenile Rights Project, Inc., and Ellen Jones
1996 Outstanding Legal Advocate Linda Mallory Berry, Donald N. Duquette, Seth Grob, Tina M. Talarchyk and the CIVITAS ChildLaw Center
1995 Outstanding Legal Advocate Hon. Patricia Macke Dick, Mary Ann Edmund, Sue Hathorn and Alan Mishaek
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