A Woman of Firsts

nicole yancy

Nicole N. Yancy, RWU Class of 2018

Juris Doctor

Nicole Yancy ’18 is a woman of firsts.

Immediately upon completing her J.D., she became RWU Law's first graduate to obtain a judicial clerkship with the Administrative Office of the Juvenile Court in Boston. Earlier this year, she “graciously declined” a second term there in order to return to her native Pennsylvania and become that state’s first official Child Advocate.

“While 22 other states have an Office of Child Advocates, I am the first one appointed for the state of Pennsylvania,” Yancy noted.

It’s a role for which she is uniquely suited. In addition to a strong legal education “with a particular interest in child welfare policy and juvenile law” at Roger Williams, Yancy holds a master’s degree in social work from Rutgers.She previously worked for the Department of Human Services in the Children and Youth division in Philadelphia as a training and development supervisor in the area of child abuse and neglect, risk and safety assessment and case planning for families, as well as supervising the department’s multi-disciplinary team and ongoing sex abuse unit.

“One of the most exciting and gratifying things about my role now is that it's a new position in a newly established office,” Yancy said. “That puts me in a position to identify measures that will create positive outcomes for children and youth, to enhance their safety and protection from abuse and neglect, and to ensure that the quality of services they receive are delivered in a manner that upholds their dignity and rights. It allows me to lay the groundwork in areas where a child advocate could be most impactful for vulnerable populations and to make systemic changes that will improve the lives of so many children, youth and families statewide.”

A ‘Unique Mix’ of Skills

Clearly, Yancy brings a powerful passion and deep reservoir of skills to the position.

“I have no doubt that my past child welfare experience and the recent experience and knowledge I gained as a law clerk were primary factors in my selection,” she said. Yancy also brings skills gained while “working with the immigrant community on legal matters surrounding deportation and housing, representing families in cases of abuse, neglect and dependency petitions.”

Indeed, these are exactly the qualifications cited by Yancy’s new boss, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf – who recently created the state’s Office of Advocacy and Reform by executive order, based on the recommendations of his Council on Reform

“Pennsylvania can now focus more effort on the specific needs and support of some of its most vulnerable – its children – through the work of Nicole and her office,” Gov. Wolf said. “Nicole’s experience and dedication to children throughout her career will be a big asset to the work already underway at the Office of Advocacy and Reform.”

Wolf added that Yancy’s specific skill set was exactly what the position demanded.

“The unique mix of Nicole’s child welfare experience with her law degree, combined with her passion for protecting children, make her the perfect fit for this new position and a strong addition to the Office of Advocacy and Reform,” he said.

‘Significant Opportunities’

Yancy credits RWU Law with laying “the foundation for my experience in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems,” by affording her “several significant opportunities that helped to enhance my knowledge and skills and which ultimately led to my current role.”

While studying law at Roger Williams, Yancy said, she obtained a transformative internship with the Rhode Island Office of Children, Youth and Families’ Office of Legal Counsel. She also participated in the Alternative Spring Break Program, where she was assigned to the Manhattan branch of New York’s Legal Aid Society’s Juvenile Right’s Practice Division. Later, she was selected to participate in the RWU Law Immigration Clinic.

In that role, “I represented indigent clients in matters involving deportation, adjustment of status, and employment authorization," she noted. "I also had the opportunity to observe Family Court proceedings involving unaccompanied minors.”

One of her most rewarding experiences at Roger Williams, Yancy said, was externing as a student attorney with Rhode Island Legal Services.

It was “a unique experience that allowed me to gain classroom knowledge and learn lawyering skills from my field instructor,  Suzanne Harrington-Steppen, while also gaining hands-on experience representing parents in Rhode Island Family Court under the supervision of the dedicated attorneys in RILS Family Preservation Program,” Yancy said. “The whole experience was just invaluable to me, because it taught me practical lawyering skills such as timekeeping, while enhancing other skills such as advocacy, problem-solving, and client counseling.”

She expects to draw upon all of these skills in her new position.  

“Being selected to participate in the RWU Law externship program helped to round out my knowledge of the child welfare and family court system," Yancy said. “The skills I obtained will no doubt aid my work as the Child Advocate of Pennsylvania.”

In addition to Harrington-Steppen, Yancy specifically credits Laurie Barron, Jodi Haley, Justin Kishbaugh, Veronica Paricio, and Kathy Thompson as being essential and “genuine” contributors to her law school success. “With their encouragement, guidance and support, I gained multiple invaluable field experiences while enrolled, and ultimately graduated with honors,” she said.