Blog: Positive Youth Development

Understanding How Adverse Childhood Experiences Affect Teens’ Futures

Have you heard of adverse childhood experiences? Known as simply “ACEs,” this approach is rapidly gaining attention among the medical community and public health professionals alike. The issue is spanning boundaries and becoming increasingly pressing as studies unfold that early adversity—ACEs and toxic stress—dramatically impacts health outcomes.

A recently released TEDMED talk from Pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris explores this issue deeply. Her interest in ACEs began with a study led by Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which evaluated more than 17,000 adult patients. The study appointed each adult an ACEs score—a number that documented how many adverse childhood experiences each person had, such as abuse, neglect, exposure to domestic violence, and parents who were divorced, mentally ill or incarcerated.

The results were striking. The study found that the higher the ACEs score, the more likely adults suffered from dire health outcomes. Specifically:

  • Those who’ve experienced high levels of trauma are at triple the risk for heart disease and lung cancer.
  • Those with four or more adverse childhood experiences are four times more likely to become depressed, and
  • Twelve times more likely to attempt suicide.

Even more, the study revealed that these health outcomes aren’t just a result of high risk behavior, such as alcohol and drug use, that are spurred by toxic stress. These health outcomes result directly from toxic stress. Burke Harris explains that when a young person is exposed to ACEs, his or her stress system is activated over and over, wearing down the system and affecting brain structure and function. Children are particularly sensitive to the impacts of stress activation since they are still developing, and high doses of adversity can also affect developing hormonal systems, immune systems, and the way DNA is read and transcribed.

To tackle this issue, Burke Harris opened the Center for Youth Wellness in California, where her focus is to prevent, screen and treat children with high ACEs scores. The approach is interdisciplinary—a collaboration across health professionals, families and treatment providers—something that we echo here at Reclaiming Futures.

While our focus at Reclaiming Futures is providing substance use and mental health treatment to teens, and mitigating involvement in the juvenile justice system, it’s valuable to understand how ACEs may impact these teens that we work with daily. It’s our approach—the intersection of treatment, family and mentor involvement, and community reintegration—that has the potential to identify those teens who have high ACEs scores, and identify solutions for getting them back on track to bright futures.

Watch Burke Harris’ full TEDMED talk below to hear more on the ACEs impact on futures:

Reducing Negative Stigma Around Girls in the Juvenile Justice System

NCFA recent article on JJIE, written by The National Crittenton Foundation’s President Jeannette Pai-Espinosa, examines how the juvenile justice system impacts girls who have committed status offenses, as well as the stigma that surrounds them.

Pai-Espinosa first calls out three grim facts about girls in the juvenile justice system:

  • “The percentage of girls in the juvenile justice system has steadily increased over the decades, rising from 17 percent in 1980 to 29 percent in 2011.”
  • “Girls are more likely than boys to be arrested for status offenses — behaviors that would not be considered offenses at the age of majority — and often receive more severe punishment than boys.”
  • “Victimization of girls typically precedes their involvement with the system.”

As it’s often hard to understand the impact of these facts, Pai-Espinosa shares the story of Tanya, a girl who suffered trauma starting at a young age and continually ran away from home to escape the cycle of abuse she was trapped in. Her time homeless on the streets led her to a juvenile detention facility—something that the author says is not uncommon: “Simply put, behaviors such as running away, breaking curfew, skipping school and possession or use of alcohol places girls at increased risk of entering the juvenile justice system.”

Once in the juvenile justice system, many girls are marked by society as a “bad girl” for not meeting gender role expectations to be, as the author says, “sugar and spice and everything nice.” This “bad girl” image can prevent young girls from seeking the help they need and cause them to continue on a troublesome path, in and out of the system for minor offenses that Pai-Espinosa refers to as cries for help, not criminal behaviors.

These cries for help that result in crime are commonly a means to escape abuse and other traumatic experiences. According to the Survey of Youth in Residential Placement, 42 percent of girls in custody reported past physical abuse, 44 percent reported past suicide attempts and 35 percent reported past sexual abuse.

Pai-Espinosa describes how the juvenile justice system can be a harmful intervention, causing more trauma for Tanya and the many other girls like her who need a safe place to recover and heal.

The author believes there are several necessary steps that have the power to eliminate the “bad girl” stigma and shift the treatment of these girls to instead recognize their strength and resiliency and help them get the support they need, including the following:

  • “Promote universal assessment for girls and boys involved in the juvenile justice system to better understand their exposure to violence, abuse and neglect.”
  • “Advocate that girls in or at risk of entering the juvenile justice system receive gender and culturally responsive, trauma-informed, developmentally appropriate services to heal from the violence and abuse they have experienced.”
  • “Push for the reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Act, with a focus on preventing detention for status offenses and the importance of gender-responsive and trauma-informed services.”
  • “Endorse and advance the important work of organizations like the Coalition for Juvenile Justice and the National Standards for the Care of Youth Charged with Status Offenses.”

Pai-Espinosa concludes with a quote from Tanya describing how the support she eventually received was a bridge to a different kind of life for her:

“I had no way of knowing at the time, that self-love would be something that I would have to first learn that I was missing, and then fight like heck to reclaim it in order to be happy … I have come to learn that life and its successes unfold incrementally, so that in each moment we can see some measure of success. Some days this may simply mean that I decide to keep moving forward, on other days, I may have honored my personal truth a little more. Healing does not EVER happen overnight, but incremental success does.”

For more information, read the full story on

Drug Facts Can Be Fun! How Montgomery County Juvenile Court Celebrated National Drug Facts Week

Judge Capizzi with the winning youth team on game night

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) led National Drug Facts Week last week, January 26 through February 1, 2015. The week was dedicated to having honest conversations with teens about the harmful effects of drug abuse. Schools and Courts across the country hosted activities to provide youth with scientific facts, research, statistics and emerging trends with drugs. The goal: equip youth with the knowledge necessary to understand that drugs are not a game and they have very serious consequences.

Although drug abuse is not a game, communicating the information to young people can be fun, and I was part of it last week. Montgomery County Juvenile Court hosted a fun activity to get youth the facts and information that they need. On January 27, 2015, the Honorable Judge Anthony Capizzi spent is evening giving his best Alex Trebek impersonation while hosting the 2nd annual Drug Fact Game Night. This wasn’t your normal game of Jeopardy; all categories and questions were developed using data provided by NIDA and related to the harmful effects of drugs.

There were a total of 30 youth involved with Montgomery County Juvenile Court Drug Court in attendance. In addition, there were Natural Helpers, several members from the Parent Advisory Board, and Juvenile Court Probation staff. Parents in attendance from the Advisory Board shared feedback, saying, “we enjoyed seeing Judge Capizzi and the Probation Officers have so much fun with the kids.”

Pairing informative education around drug fact with pizza, trivia and incentives (the first place team received gift cards to McDonalds), Montgomery County Juvenile Court was able to intersect meaningful drug facts with positive experiences for youths. Overall, a success!

National Drug Facts game night at Montgomery County

During this same week, 30 youth involved with Montgomery County Juvenile Court submitted artwork for the Drug Abuse Prevention Poster Contest, intended to get youth involved with pro-social activities like art. Juvenile Court staff encouraged youth to complete artwork at home and school, and provided supplies with assistance for some youth at K12 Art Gallery. The artwork is being submitted this week to Montgomery County Drug-Free Coalition to be judged with the other submissions from schools and programs across the county. The grand prize winner of this contest will received $50.00 cash prize, and a college scholarship of choice to Sinclair Community College, Wright State University or the University of Dayton. In addition, the artwork will be reproduced and distributed at various Coalition events to integrate their great work within the community.

National Drug Facts Week: Why It’s Important to Get Teens Talking

Candid conversation and community events will be the focal points of National Drug Facts Week Jan. 26 through Feb. 1, 2015. A national health observance led by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), National Drug Facts Week seeks to work with teens to shatter the myths about drugs and drug abuse.Register to host an educational event for National Drug Facts Week in your community. Get started now with FREE materials!

NIDA encourages schools, community groups, sports clubs, hospitals and other interested organizations to host an event in your community, supported by a robust collection of resources and interactive tools provided by NIDA on its website. The website is even designed with teen-friendly language and graphics to make it easy for teens to also take action and host events among their peers.

NIDA is also hosting a Drug Facts Chat Day on January 30. The online chat will facilitate conversation between high school students and NIDA scientists, so students from around the country can comfortably ask questions they most want answered, knowing that these expert scientists will give them the facts.

At Reclaiming Futures, we believe in the power of facilitating productive conversation with teens about substance use. It helps to illuminate their needs and identifies ways that parents, family members, educators and health professionals can be supportive in paving a healthy and substance-free future.

Our new pilot project, an adaptation of Screening Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT), is an early intervention framework built around a motivational conversation with youth at risk of juvenile justice involvement. We will train front line staff in juvenile justice diversion settings to use screening tools and brief follow up sessions to tailor a treatment response that matches with the youth's level of need and motivation.

Like National Drug Facts Week, this new SBIRT approach seeks to support teens with substance use questions and habits through motivational conversations with health experts. We’re happy to support NIDA’s efforts, and encourage you to share this opportunity.

Visit the National Drug Facts Week website to learn how to host your own community event.

El Paso Teens Build Thanksgiving Float that Earns Community Recognition

More than 250,000 people watched and cheered from the sidelines at the annual Thanksgivingangrybirds Sun Bowl Parade in El Paso, Texas, where more than 100 “gaming mania” themed parade floats, marching bands, giant helium balloons, equestrian units and more glided down the street. Among them, the Challenge Explorers Float, whose Angry Birds themed float took home the Governor’s Award for Best Presentation of the Parade’s Theme.

The teens who constructed the Challenge Explorers Float from the ground up are part of El Paso County’s Challenge Academy, a residential Reclaiming Futures program that is part of its continuum of care and an extension of El Paso’s pro-social activities for youth. These young men and women have been through the juvenile justice system, and oftentimes do community service as part of the Academy’s activities. Building a parade float—from concept development to construction to walking in the parade—offered participants the opportunity to get involved in their local community, and collaborate with staff and family.

“Oftentimes these kids have been outcasts most of their lives, and don’t know what it’s like to be a part of something bigger and be successful at it. To start a project from nothing, come together as a unit and produce a product that wins awards is instrumental in building self-confidence,” says Director of the Challenge Academy, Sam Heredia.


El Paso’s Juvenile Probation Department was extremely involved and committed to fundraising, coordinating activities throughout the year like selling popcorn, candy gram sales and ice cream float gatherings to raise money for materials and construction. Families of the teens also got involved as part of the Academy’s family reintegration program, donating supplies and working alongside them to build the award-winning float. The collaborated effort meant that not a dime of taxpayer or county money was spent.

Roger Martinez, Chief Juvenile Probation Officer, explains: “This initiative is an example of our response to the A&E show Beyond Scared Straight. We’re learning more and more through programs like the El Paso County Challenge Academy that positive reinforcement actually has a longer lasting impact. In this case, these teens were acknowledged in a positive way by their community, which has the potential to change their mindsets and lead them to become active community members once more.”

Since its inception in 2008, El Paso County Juvenile Justice Center has embraced Reclaiming Futures’ systems change approach through community collaborations and partnerships, which have served juvenile justice youth and families through continued services beyond treatment. These collaborations have expanded to include collaboration with the local FBI Office, Homeland Security and the Sheriff’s Department, in which members of these agencies volunteer their time to act as mentors to youth in the El Paso County Drug Court Program. Members also volunteer their own time to accompany juvenile justice youth to a local gym to teach alternatives to substance use and promote healthier drug free lifestyles.

Tapping into the creative side of juvenile justice involved youth, El Paso County partners with local artists and businesses for contributions, incorporating art into to the educational curriculum utilized by Delta Academy (El Paso Independent School District) or as a catalyst for these youth to express themselves without the need to engage in substance use.

El Paso County is a great example of strong community collaborations and systems change. We are proud to share their accomplishments and look forward to seeing what they strive for next.

Two Reclaiming Futures Sites Come Together to Celebrate Natural Helpers


A few members of the Lucas County Reclaiming Futures team attended the 11th Natural Helper Recognition Program in Montgomery County, Ohio, last month. The Recognition Program was held at the Presidential Banquet Center and highlighted volunteers in Montgomery County who are working with the court to help teens overcome drugs, alcohol and crime. It was very beneficial for our Lucas County team to see and hear the testimonials of how the Montgomery County team has engaged the faith-based community, as well as other volunteers in the community, by recruiting and training them to become Natural Helpers. The recognition acknowledged that it takes a village, meaning everyone—the court and community—to work towards the common goal of supporting youth to make positive changes.

The keynote speaker, LaShea Smith, spoke powerfully about how Natural Helpers fit into the Reclaiming Futures mantra of “More Treatment, Better Treatment, and Beyond Treatment.” She spoke to how Natural Helpers in the community learn to recognize that there is an “opportunity in every obstacle”.

I joined the Juvenile Justice Fellow, Mike Brennan, the Juvenile Treatment Court Case Manager, Andrea Hill, the Parent Partner, Victoria Kamm, and the Lucas County Youth Advocate Program Director, Sherri Munn, in a trip from Lucas County to Montgomery County to both support the Reclaiming Futures programming and to learn how Lucas County can better engage their local faith based community, as well as others to provide mentoring services to court involved youth.

The Honorable Nick Kuntz and the Honorable Anthony Capizzi, Montgomery County Juvenile Court, and the Montgomery County Reclaiming Futures team did an outstanding job with putting together the Recognition Program, welcoming our Lucas County team, and promoting fellowship with other attendees. There were more than 200 people in attendance. We look forward to visiting other Reclaiming Futures sites in the future.


Register for Part II in this Webinar Series: Family Involvement in Juvenile Justice

Last week, I highlighted the value of family and mentor involvement in a teen’s life, particularlymentalhealth teens who have been involved in the juvenile justice system. This week and next, the National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice and the Mental Health and Juvenile Justice Collaborative for Change are building on that topic with a webinar series dedicated to family involvement in juvenile justice.

The first part, “Working with Families,” occurred this week and introduced strategies for teens and families to address behavioral health needs together, and how to integrate family engagement in a strategic and productive way.

The second of the series, “Navigating the Juvenile Justice System,” will be presented December 4 from 2-3 p.m. ET. This follow-up webinar will focus on facilitating understanding for families—engaging families by sharing insight about the system and ensuring they know how to access available services.

Family involvement is critical for youth with behavioral health disorders who are involved with the juvenile justice system. Families need information, training, and support to help them become knowledgeable about the juvenile justice system and effective advocates for their children. At the same time, juvenile justice systems need to ensure that their policies and procedures support family involvement and that staff are trained to better understand the family perspective, the benefits of family involvement, and specific strategies for family engagement.

Webinar: Navigating the Juvenile Justice System
When: December 4 from 2-3 p.m. ET
Presenters: Sarah Cusworth-Walker, Ph.D., Assistant Professor at the Division of Public Behavioral Health and Justice Policy at the University of Washington; Mathilda de Dios, Program Manager at the Northwestern Children and Family Justice Center in Chicago, Illinois
Register here

Family Engagement in the Juvenile Justice System: Still a Long Way to Go

The role of family and mentors in any teen’s life contributes to their success and healthy Reclaiming Futures Programfuture. The role of family and mentors for teens in the juvenile justice system or a juvenile correctional facility is even more critical.

Family engagement in the juvenile justice system is not a new concept, but it is a key component to ensuring at-risk teens stay clear of substance abuse and crime. A recent Juvenile Justice Information Exchange article addresses this need in youth detention centers:

“Experts, supported by a small but growing body of research, say fostering family engagement improves incarcerated youths’ behavior, helps families feel more connected, reduces disciplinary incidents and boosts the staff morale.”

“Moreover, strengthening these connections better prepares youths for a return to the community upon release — most return to their family homes — and reduces repeat offenses.”

While the author Gary Gately does identify some successful programs where family involvement and treatment are front and center, he shares that most systems nationally are more focused on punishment, and oftentimes there exists a contentious relationship between family members and juvenile facility staff members.

Reclaiming Futures’ sites work with a wide variety of community members and resources to contribute to youth success as they remain in their community. Led by the community fellow(s), sites link youth to mentors, education, employment, job training, hobbies, sports, volunteer opportunities, faith communities, and other prosocial activities of interest to youth.

As we’ve seen among Reclaiming Futures sites who have achieved success with this strategy, family involvement and mentors should be closely integrated into a teen’s life for optimal results. For example, Reclaiming Futures in Santa Cruz is taking preventative action with a partnership with Hands on Fatherhood, encouraging fathers and father-figures to create meaningful relationships with their kids. Also, Reclaiming Futures in Snohomish County saw success with its Promising Arts in Recovery program, which added a mentorship and creative arts component to treatment, resulting in substance-free teens who become productive members of their communities.

Gately shares some wonderful examples of successful family integration efforts around the country. Those, paired with Reclaiming Futures’ efforts to connect teens with support systems during and after exiting the juvenile justice system, are pioneering the way to a deeper systemic impact that can hopefully lead to communities and facilities committed to full family and community engagement.

Webinar Opportunity: Exercising Judicial Leadership on the Deinstitutionalization of Status Offenders

JudgeThe Coalition for Juvenile Justice (CJJ) will host a webinar on November 14 to address how judges can more effectively bring together family members, attorneys and advocates, and service providers to improve outcomes for non-delinquent youth in their communities.

Targeted to judicial leaders and juvenile justice practitioners, the webinar will offer actionable steps on how to convene stakeholders involved in the youth’s life, and will expand on the recently released CJJ tool relevant to judges in this area: “Exercising Judicial Leadership to Reform the Care of Non-Delinquent Youth: A Convenor's Action Guide for Developing a Multi-Stakeholder Process.”

The report explains,

“Juvenile judges and courts face complex challenges as a result of laws that allow youth, by virtue of their minor status, to be charged in juvenile court with ‘status offenses.’ Status offenses are actions that are not illegal after a person reaches the age of 18. They include curfew violations, possession of alcohol and tobacco, running away and truancy. All too often the court’s involvement in the lives of these youth and families does not yield the intended positive outcomes, particularly when youth charged with status offenses have their liberty restricted and lives disrupted by being placed in confinement, and are separated from their family, school and community.”

Register for this webinar to hear directly from two judges who have seen success and made a difference in the lives of status offending youths and families.

Webinar: Exercising Judicial Leadership on the Deinstitutionalization of Status Offenders
When: November 14 at 1:00 p.m. ET
Presenters: Hon. Chandlee Johnson Kuhn, Chief Judge, Family Court of Delaware; Hon. Karen Ashby, Judge, Denver Juvenile Court
Register here.

Reclaiming Futures Featured on the Office of National Drug Control Policy Blog

In recognition of National Substance Abuse Prevention Month, I had the honor to contribute to the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s blog. Citing our Reclaiming Futures site in Snohomish County, Washington, I shared why we at Reclaiming Futures believe community involvement is critical to improve mental health and substance abuse treatment, and ultimately build stronger communities around prevention.

Read the full blog post here and contribute your thoughts below.

In Juvenile Justice, Community Involvement is Key to Substance Abuse Prevention

Local artists in Snohomish County, Washington, are contributing their time, tools, and studio space to mentor teens recently involved in their community’s juvenile justice system. For eight weeks, the youth will learn art and photography skills, then produce artwork documenting their lives, families, and communities. Some of their efforts will be featured in local art venues or the local newspaper.

The teens are participants in Promising Arts in Recovery (PAIR), part of Snohomish County’s local Reclaiming Futures program. The goal of PAIR is to establish social and job skills by connecting local artists with at-risk teens who are involved in the juvenile justice system and may be undergoing treatment for substance use or mental health issues. Through programs like PAIR that offer workshops, internships, or job-shadowing opportunities, local professionals are not only helping these young people develop skills necessary to be active citizens, they are helping to rebuild a community around prevention.

Read the full story.

Speak Up! Share Your Story of Recovery from Addiction in an Important Video Contest

Do you know somebody who has an inspiring message of recovery to share? In a special 25th anniversary celebration of National Recovery Month, the Addiction Technology Transfer Center Network (ATTC) invites people in recovery from addiction or mental illness to share their stories in 60-second segments.

The “In My Own Words...” Video Message Contest aims to spread a message of hope by recognizing the accomplishments of recovering Americans, and those who have been instrumental in others’ recoveries. By collecting and sharing video stories of those who have succeeded in recovery, we can stifle the negative stigma of addiction and encourage others to speak out and ask for help.

The contest asks participants to address one of the following two prompts in a 60-second video message:
I’m speaking up about my recovery because…
I’m reaching out about my recovery to…
The “In My Own Words...” Video Message Contest, sponsored in conjunction with Faces & Voices of Recovery and Young People in Recovery, closes October 15, 2014.

Head to the ATTC Network for complete instructions on submitting a “In My Own Words...” video.

Webinar: Increasing Family Voice in the Juvenile Justice System

Why is a family voice significant in the juvenile justice system? I’m addressing this question in aOlivia September 19 webinar, along with Sandra Spencer of the National Federation of Families for Children's Mental Health.

We’ll discuss why family voice is crucial to the success of and support of youth involved in the juvenile justice system. As an advocate for substance abuse and mental health treatment for teens, Reclaiming Futures helps families connect to the community support resources needed for adolescents to stay clean and sober, and become a productive member of society.

Here are three takeaways you’ll gain from attending this webinar:

  • Understand and discuss why family and youth voice is critical
  • How to incorporate family voice into practice in the juvenile justice system
  • Learn how Reclaiming Futures sites have successfully integrated family voice


  • What: Webinar—Increasing Family Voice in the Juvenile Justice System
  • When: Friday, September 19, 3-4 p.m. EDT
  • Presenters: Sandra Spencer, Executive Director, National Federation of Families for Children's Mental Health; Susan Richardson, National Executive Director, Reclaiming Futures;
  • Register: Register here
  • Cost: Free
  • Contact: If you are unable to listen from your computer and need to call in, please email

Study Illustrates Impact of Collaborative Support for Teens with Mental Health Issues

holdinghands“Nearly two-thirds of adolescents who have had a major depressive episode don't get treatment, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.”

A new study, Collaborative Care for Adolescents With Depression in Primary Care, examined the impact of a concerted treatment effort among parents and a depression care manager. NPR reports on the study:

“In a clinical trial, researchers from the University of Washington and Seattle Children's Hospital split a group of 100 teens who screened positive for depression into two categories. Half were referred to mental health specialists and had their screening results mailed to their parents.

The rest were treated with what doctors call a collaborative care model. These kids were paired with a depression care manager (a specially trained nurse, social worker or therapist) who worked with them and their parents to choose a therapist and make decisions about whether a psychiatric medication might help. The care manager also followed up with the teens every week or two, and called their parents every month.

After a year, only 27 percent of the teens who didn't get that extra coaching had enlisted in the recommended treatment, while 86 percent of the collaborative care group got treatment.”

The study not only explores the general lack of long-term support for teens with depression, it reiterates the need for collaborative parental, medical and community involvement in mental health treatment. That’s our goal at Reclaiming Futures. Providing a strong united support system to kids with mental health issues can prevent substance abuse and crime, helping kids avoid the juvenile justice system altogether.

New York City Teens Get a Second Chance Through Theater

This week, I’m excited to report on an uplifting and innovative program in New York City designed to give justice-involved teens a second chance. The program, Stargate Theatre Company, was recently featured on, so we got in touch with its co-designer, Evan Elkin. Mr. Elkin has extensive experience in juvenile justice and previously served as the director of the Department of Planning and Government Innovation at the Vera Institute of Justice.
On the Stargate Theatre Company, Mr. Elkin writes:

With the rapid advancement of reforms in juvenile justice systems across the United States has come an expanded understanding of what court-involved young people need in order to succeed. Some have described the past decade of juvenile justice reform as a gradual “paradigm shift” away from a largely punitive philosophy to one that places greater emphasis on the innate ability of youth to turn their lives around with the help of their communities and families.
This emerging new sensibility which the researcher Jeffrey Butts has termed “positive youth justice” has challenged long held assumptions about the role of incarceration in changing behavior, about how resiliency and coping with chronic trauma must be considered, how privilege and access to opportunity fit into the picture.
The Stargate Theatre Company is an example of this new paradigm in action through a project I had the privilege of co-designing with NYC’s Manhattan Theatre Club. Stargate is simultaneously a paid job, a work readiness training, a literacy program, a therapeutic experience and, of course, a theatre program for court-involved youth. Stargate begins its second season this summer.

Watch the video from for more on the Stargate Theatre Company: 

New Research Finds Excessive Discipline Harms Student Achievement

In a report by the Discipline Disparities Research-to-Practice Collaborative, discrepancies in school discipline are found to be a serious problem that result in a wide range of negative student outcomes, including lowered academic achievement, increased risk of dropout, and increased likelihood of contact with the juvenile justice system.
Funded by the Atlantic Philanthropies and Open Societies Foundations, the Collaborative consists of 26 researches, educators, advocates, and policy analysts that spent nearly three years working to develop and support a policy agenda for reform to improve students outcomes in school discipline and encourage effective interventions.
Some of the key points discussed in the briefing papers include:

  • Removal from school for minor rule breaking happens too often and increases dropout risks, juvenile justice involvement, and can severely impair the economy.
  • Excessive disciplinary exclusion harms some groups more than others, including black males and Latinos.
  • There are effective and promising alternatives to exclusionary discipline and interventions, which can improve learning conditions for all students.

Find the full briefing papers from the Discipline Disparities Series here >>

Clinic at Kansas Juvenile Correctional Complex Teaches More than Just Basketball

Washburn University basketball coach Bob Chipman and five members of the Ichabod team gave some pointers on the game of basketball, and a few on the game of life, to residents of the Kansas Juvenile Correctional Complex (KJCC) last week.
With their first game of the season a little over two weeks away, Chipman and a few of his players took time out to teach a group of juvenile offenders about basketball, as well as to encourage them to make healthy life choices.
The visitors coached the residents on techniques of the game and ran through a series of drills that helped bond the two groups of young men, many of whom are very close in age. The day ended with one of the young offenders tossing alley-oop passes to red-shirt freshman Evan Robinson.
“It’s a great feeling to get this opportunity to serve the community, and I guarantee that I will learn a lot more from them than I will teach them,” said Robinson. “It’s good to see the smiles on their faces and know that we’re able to make a positive impact in some way.”
Chipman first connected with KJCC through one of his former players, Steve Bonner, who now serves as a corrections counselor at the facility.
“We all make mistakes, in life, and in basketball,” Chipman told the juvenile offenders. “But you learn from your mistakes and you go on. Just like in basketball, it’s not how you start, but how you finish that counts. I want every one of you to finish great.”

The Importance of a Positive School Climate

We all want schools to have a culture of high achievement. A place where students are challenged; where they have the freedom to think creatively, where they are pushed by their teachers; where they are more than test scores; and where they go on to exceed all of their hopes and dreams and our hopes and dreams for them. Education reformers spend countless hours and dollars to create high performing schools. But we don’t seem to take into account what research has shown us: that positive school climate is associated with positive child and youth development, effective risk-prevention and health-promotion efforts, student learning and academic achievement, increased student graduation rates, and teacher retention. Aren’t these results what we expect in a high performing school?
During the past year as a Stoneleigh Fellow, I have had the privilege to immerse myself in the issue of how to provide for positive school climate throughout the district. I often find myself thinking about a conversation that I had with a School District of Philadelphia principal. This principal had made great strides towards improving his school’s climate. During our conversation, I was pressing him about what he had put in place to create a safe, secure and positive school environment. He told me that creating a positive school climate and school culture isn’t “rocket science,” but simply about creating a culture of care.
There are many schools in the Philadelphia system that have created a culture of care. For instance, I visited a middle school that was in its first year of implementing restorative practices. During the course of the day, I watched classrooms using restorative circles to talk about the school’s new lateness policy. Students held thoughtful discussions about the pros and cons of being late and, together with teachers, they talked about why this policy was needed and how they could help to prevent students from coming to school late. Later that day, I observed a circle with two staff members and four young ladies. It was convened because the staff over heard the students talking about fighting each other. During the course of the circle, they talked about what led to the fight, how it made the participants and the bystanders feel, what they could lose by fighting, and what was to gain. In the end, the students acknowledged that they did not have to be friends, but apologized and said they didn’t want to fight each other.
In Chicago I visited an elementary school where there has been an intensive and pro-longed focus on social-emotional learning, or SEL. Children as young as pre-K talked about SEL – how to acknowledge their feelings, how to calm down, how to pay attention. A classroom of 7th graders discussed what happens within the body when you are scared, or angry or upset. The school developed a “peace center,” where students recognized when they were upset, asked an adult to go to the center, and gave themselves the time to calm down.

Recent Report Highlights the Indicators Of Children’s Well-Being

The Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics recently released a report on indicators of children’s well-being and features statistics on children and families in the United States.
America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2013 is the sixteenth in an ongoing series of reports on children and family statistics. The reports look at 41 key indicators in seven domains: family and social environment, economic circumstances, health care, physical environment and safety, behavior, education, and health.
The report found interesting changes in the past two years and projected outcomes for the children’s population:

  • A drop in births for unmarried women. 46 births for every 1,000 unmarried women ages 15–44 in 2011, down from 48 per 1,000 in 2010.
  • A drop in the percentage of children from birth to 17 years with no usual source of healthcare, from 5 percent in 2010 to 4 percent in 2011.
  • A drop in the percentage of children from birth to 17 years of age living with two married parents, from 65 percent in 2010 to 64 percent in 2011.
  • A rise in the percentage of male and female 12th graders who reported binge drinking—consuming five or more alcoholic beverages in a row in the past two weeks—from 22 percent in 2011 to 24 percent in 2012.
  • By 2050, about half of the American population ages under 17 is projected to be children who are Hispanic, Asian, or of two or more races.
  • By 2050, the population of children under the age of 17 will make up 21 percent of the population.

Addressing the Suffering of Children

I was recently sent a link to The Mistakes Kids Make website. While taking the quiz, I was reminded of the difference between the negligible costs of my mistakes, from the potentially life-changing payment my black, 22 year old son might face for making the same mistakes. Though it is a difference that Stoneleigh strives to erase, it is a reality that was repeatedly mentioned at the Stoneleigh Symposium, From Risk to Resilience: What Youth Need to Thrive.
On May 8, representatives from all segments of the Philadelphia community came to discuss what it means to be resilient and how as individuals and a community, we can help youth thrive by making them so. Attendees came to hear from an adolescent pediatrician who has spent his career building on the strengths of teenagers by fostering their resilience, a young man from Boston who benefited from an ecosystem of youth development programs, one of his mentors who has spent 40 years serving youth and their families in Boston’s poorest and most violent community, the Deputy Commissioner of Philadelphia’s DHS who oversees the Division of Juvenile Justice Services and is a passionate advocate for fairness and equity in that system, and a Stoneleigh Fellow who developed and directs an alternative approach to dealing with violent crime.
Each of our speakers provided unique perspectives on what it means and what it takes to develop resilience in youth. Each of them addressed the reality that young black and brown boys and men are treated differently for the common mistakes they make in childhood and adolescence. However, all of the speakers agreed that it is never too late to transition youth from risk to resilience and that first and foremost all youth need to feel loved.
When we developed the symposium, this was not the core message I expected to hear from a scientist, a bureaucrat, or our friends from Boston. Though resilience is a basic human capacity, nascent in all children, and something that can be developed even in the most hurt children, it doesn’t just happen. In fact, for children who have faced a lifetime of social, racial and economic injustice, it demands intentional practice change that starts with caring adults.

Almost 50 Percent Fewer Youth Arrested in Florida Schools; News Roundup

Juvenile Justice Reform

  • Courts making strides in protecting children, vulnerable adults (Lincoln Journal Star)
    Supreme Court Chief Justice Heavican thanked lawmakers for passing legislation last session to enhance the Nebraska Juvenile Service Delivery Project, which is designed to keep children involved in the juvenile justice system from becoming repeat offenders. The project aims to keep children from being jailed while they receive services or treatment.
  • Changes made in laws affecting youths (Midland Daily News)
    It’s been years in the making, but now some big changes have been made to laws pertaining to juveniles in court. “The predominant push is the idea that we need to have laws that are geared to juveniles,” Midland County Probate Judge Dorene S. Allen said. “Not use adult laws for juveniles.”
  • Almost 50 percent fewer youth arrested in Florida schools (Florida Department of Juvenile Justice)
    The number of youth arrested in Florida’s public schools declined 48 percent in the past eight years, from more than 24,000 to 12,520, according to a study released by the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice. The decline corresponds with a downward trend in juvenile delinquency in all categories across the state.
  • Building their future: Youth offenders learn woodworking, life skills in lockup (Waco Tribune-Herald)
    In a small shop building at the state youth lockup in Mart, teenage boys who have gotten into trouble with the law are learning woodworking skills that officials hope can be put to good use for the community.
  • Best Of 2012: Juvenile Justice Desk (Youth Radio)
    In 2012, Youth Radio's Juvenile Justice Desk followed some major changes to youth sentencing in California and the nation.