Founded in 1977 as the North Shore Children's Law Project, the CLCM originally dedicated its legal aid to children "stuck" in state hospitals and bureaucracies, or caught up in disputes among state agencies. Service delivery was subsequently expanded to assist disadvantaged youth who were improperly denied education services, and those who were abused and neglected. In later years, the organization developed a juvenile justice and immigration advocacy component.
In the late 1980's, owing to the demand for services beyond the North Shore and the dearth of programs providing legal assistance to children, the agency took on limited statewide functions, and changed its name to the Children's Law Center of Massachusetts. The focus of the CLCM remained on direct legal services in education, child welfare and juvenile justice.
In 1999 the Law Center underwent a major transformation: New management and staff were hired. Within a year thereafter, the Law Center, in collaboration with the then Youth Advocacy Project (YAP), now Youth Advocacy Division or YAD of the Committee for Public Counsel Services, expanded its services to Boston by developing an education advocacy initiative, EdLaw, that is based in YAD's Boston offices. In addition, the agency began to supplement its direct services—still centered on education, child welfare and juvenile justice—with a policy/systems reform component that has significantly expanded the Law Center's ability to ensure the equitable and effective treatment of children by the state agencies charged with their care. From 2008-2013, the CLCM also provided an education advocacy initiative in Lawrence called the Greater Lawrence Education Project.
Since its inception, the CLCM's comprehensive litigation services, trainings, technical assistance and broader policy work have benefited thousands of disadvantaged children and families across the Commonwealth.