Blog: Positive Youth Development

The Court's Role in Reclaiming Our Children's Futures

Relying on negative reinforcement and punishment to rehabilitate a troubled teen is not effective, writes retired juvenile court Judge William Hitchcock in a Juvenile Justice Information Exchange (JJIE) op-ed. While teens should be held accountable for their offenses, courts should also help them get back on track and away from a life of crime. One way to do this is by building on their strengths.
Judge Hitchcock explains:

Despite the fact that the vast majority of offenders commit nonviolent property crimes, we still detain too many of these youth in the guise of managing misbehavior by consequences. Most of the disposition reports that I would read as a juvenile court judge contained only references to the negatives, rarely highlighting the assets that the young person may have.
Where is the other side of the coin? With rare exception, these youthful offenders have assets that can be built upon by an intentional approach to managing their probation. Yet most probation officers are not trained in strength-based planning.

Recognizing the role that courts can play in rehabilitating youth, Reclaiming Futures uses assessments to determine teens' needs and builds a plan around them. According to Judge Hitchcock:

Teens Learn Teamwork and Patience by Building Gingerbread Houses

Hardin County Reclaiming Futures was recently invited to speak to a local church group about their Recovery School (Hardin Community School) and Hardin County Reclaiming Futures Juvenile Drug Court. The church members loved hearing about the community initiative and wanted to reach out to the local youth by donating funds for a gingerbread house project.
The project began on December 10, 2012 for the Recovery School students who had a week to complete their houses. Now that the houses are finished, we are holding a contest on our Facebook page for the best houses. Hardin County’s Reclaiming Futures Fellows are also invited to come in for judging and awarding prizes.  Almost the entire student body at the recovery school turned out to participate in the project.
Most students anticipated doing their own gingerbread house, but quickly realized that the task was not as easy as one would think and most began working together as teams to build the walls and the roofs. The houses were made of graham crackers and held together by a special icing to help hold the structure together. Decorations were available as multiple assortments of candies.  

Rethinking Juvenile Justice: Promoting the Health and Well-Being of Crossover Youth

There are many reasons to be concerned about systemic failures that impede the promotion of healthy lifestyles for youth growing up in America’s economically challenged communities. Among the most notable are diminished academic institutions, lack of access to quality health care, limited exposure to the world of work, and trauma-induced behavioral and physical health effects associated with victimization and exposure to violence. And concerned we should be, as a growing body of research provides compelling evidence that these experiences persist far beyond adolescence.
As research linking childhood and youth experiences to adult health status has evolved, two subpopulations—youth in child welfare and juvenile justice systems—have become the primary focus of policy and practice reform. Recent research, however, suggests we may be paying too little attention to a third and perhaps more vulnerable group—youth with histories in both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. Increasingly referred to as “crossover youth,” a recent path-setting report funded by the Conrad Hilton Foundation found “membership in the crossover group to be a strong and consistent predictor of less desirable [adult] outcomes,” including heavy use of public services, high likelihood of criminal justice involvement, lower educational attainment, and extremely high use of outpatient mental health treatment (Culhane et al. 2011).

Most Popular Juvenile Justice Blog Posts | September 2012

Did you miss some of our blog posts last month? Not to worry - here's a round-up of the top 10 posts from September 2012.
10. Dismantling the Cradle to Prison Pipeline
A recent Children's Defense Fund report looks at the cradle-to-prison pipeline and offers ways to disrupt the cycle.
9. Phoenix House Uses the West Side Story Project to Disrupt the Cycle of Youth Violence
By connecting law enforcement agencies and troubled teens through the West Side Story, Phoenix House is interrupting the cycle of violence and distrust and encouraging positive youth development.
8. Pilot Juvenile Reentry Program in Illinois
Right on Crime's Jeanette Moll looks at a program in Illinois working to slash recidivism rates by targeting the underlying issues, whether related to substance abuse or family problems.

Phoenix House Uses the West Side Story Project to Disrupt the Cycle of Youth Violence

In September 2011, Phoenix House, one of the nation’s leading non-profit providers of substance abuse treatment, received a two-year grant from the Department of Justice to address the issue of youth violence using a curriculum called the West Side Story Project. For the past year, Phoenix House has been working with young adults at six of our program sites to deconstruct cultural stereotypes, build relationships with members of law enforcement, and promote peaceful conflict resolution – using themes and content from the musical West Side Story.
Funded via the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), the West Side Story Project got its start in Seattle in 2007, with the goal of increasing the capacity of law enforcement agencies to positively interact with at-risk kids through community partnerships. Phoenix House is fortunate to have had the project’s creator, Anna Laszlo, guiding our implementation of the grant across the country. Our work would not be possible without the participation of police departments in Arlington, Virginia; Dallas, Texas; Los Angeles and Santa Ana, California; and New York City and Suffolk County, New York.

The High Stakes of Child Poverty

I met Amber at a tutoring program for inner city children. It was 1966, my senior year in high school, and the war on poverty was on, a war we’ve failed to win.
At nine years old Amber looked like a scarecrow, an old scarecrow at that, bird-picked, weather beaten. She was stick thin. None of her clothes fit, hand-me-downs from her sister Bunny who quickly outgrew her clothes while her younger sister didn’t seem to grow at all. Her eyes were dark circled; her hair, straw and falling out.
Saturday mornings she was one of the first kids through the church basement doors. My friends and I weren’t naïve. We knew that that gaggle of children who showed up each week wasn’t there for the mandatory hour of instruction. They put up with our drilling them on the timestables or helping them parse a paragraph. They were really there for the cookies and milk, and the tables spread with art supplies and games. It wasn’t until years later that I realized that they may have been just as eager for our attention, our reliability, and perhaps even our youthful faith in the future as for those treats.
I worked with Amber all that year. She didn’t progress much. But that didn’t seem to matter. She was always there. Besides, there was something else going on: I was being tutored in what poverty was really all about.

From Incarceration to Fighting Fires: Teens Preparing to Reintegrate into Society

Driving into the wooded campus of Pine Grove Youth Conservation Camp feels like arriving at a summer camp – until you see the road signs warning that you are entering a correctional facility.
The mint green office, school, kitchen and dorm buildings are relics from their Civilian Conservation Corps days. The only hint that something unique is happening here is the large garage with red and white ambulance-looking vehicles marked CAL FIRE parked inside.
At this camp, about 60 young men aged 18-25 serve the last year of their sentence with the California Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) fighting wild land fires and responding to other emergencies on a CAL FIRE crew. There are no fences, the doors are unlocked and wards are regularly left unsupervised.
“We give them opportunities to screw up,” says Camp Superintendent Mike Roots. “We hope they don’t—but sometimes it takes a while.”
The main goal of the camp is to prepare wards to return to their communities with a work ethic and job skills that will help them be productive members of society. But after a decade of juvenile realignment, Roots says that goal is getting harder to achieve.

King County, Washington Buys into Juvenile Justice and More; News Roundup

Juvenile Justice Reform

Nation's First Philanthropic Initiative Targeting Black Male Youth in the Juvenile Justice System Begins in Los Angeles

In November 2011, the California Community Foundation implemented a new $5 million, five-year initiative, BLOOM, aimed at helping Black male youth, ages 14-18, who are or have been involved with the L.A. County probation system, to find new paths to education and employment and away from the juvenile justice/delinquency system. BLOOM, which stands for "Building a Lifetime of Options and Opportunities for Men," is the only major philanthropic initiative in the nation that is focused specifically on Black male youth in the justice/delinquency system. BLOOM's ultimate goal is to contribute to a 10 percent reduction in Black male youth supervised by the county probation system - approximately 480 youth.
Why This Initiative
The Community Foundation developed the BLOOM initiative in based on several underlying factors:

  1. The persistent poor outcomes for Black male youth related to economic opportunities, housing, education and emotional support;
  2. The strains caused to economic and social systems as a result of these poor outcomes;
  3. A growing awareness both locally and nationally among philanthropy, human and social service professionals and policy experts about the need to address the ongoing crisis facing Black men and boys; and
  4. An understanding that there are sufficient counter examples to suggest that the life chances of this population can be positively altered through effective policies and direct service interventions.

At-Risk Teens Earn Place in Library of Congress

It is so important for young people to realize they have gifts.
The Reclaiming Futures site in Travis County, Texas is providing an opportunity for their young people to identify their gifts and express themselves through a nationally recognized program called Do the Write Thing Texas Challenge. The anti-violence and academic program provides middle school-aged youth the opportunity to think and write about the issues surrounding violence.
Students engage in thoughtful classroom discussions about violence -- its impact on their lives -- and solutions. Students then compose essay responses.  Community volunteers select a boy and girl with the most thought-provoking essays. National ambassadors, selected from the finalists, then have the opportunity to present their views on violence to national leaders like the Secretary of Education, the Secretary of the Interior, the Attorney General of the United States, the Administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and Members of Congress. The essays of the National Finalist Ambassadors are published annually and placed in the Library of Congress.

North Carolina Teens Join Together Against Bullying

In North Carolina, teens are joining together to stand up against bullying. As part of the Salisbury Police Cadet Program, teens are joining youth court participants in making an anti-bullying video. 
The Salisbury Police Cadet Program is for young people ages 13 to 21 who are interested in a career in law enforcement. As cadets, they learn about the criminal justice system while gaining life skills and mentoring. This year, they are partnering with local teen court participants and Reclaiming Futures Rowan County.
Teen Court is a program that allows first-time teen offenders to be "tried" by their peers for misdemeanors. Teens serve as attorneys and jurors, while local attorneys serve as judges. Sentences given out through teen court often consist of restitution and community service, with a focus on rehabilitation instead of punishment.
From the Salisbury Post:

Caseload Limits a Win in Washington and More; News Roundup

Juvenile Justice Reform

Scrapbooking Connects Troubled Teens With Family

A group of volunteers is helping young people improve communication skills and build better family relationships in Juvenile Court in Kenton, Ohio. We are mentors, recruited by Reclaiming Futures Hardin County.
For the past year, scrapbooking workshops have provided a conversation-starter for the families of our court-involved young people. On Thursday evenings, mothers and children gather and assemble "Life Books" that help them tell their personal stories. Families open up and get to know one another better. The results have been amazing!


Missouri’s Unique Approach To Rehabilitating Teens in Juvenile Justice System

Missouri is changing the way it approaches rehabilitating teens in its juvenile justice system, and it’s working. With a focus on therapy and education rather than punishment, the state closed its training schools and large facilities with minimal schooling in the early 1980s. It also did away with prison-issued uniforms and isolation cells. Now in Missouri, youth who commit crimes usually spend up to 12 months in residential centers with various levels of security, depending on the severity of the crime. Lesser crimes result in teens living in group homes or visiting day treatment centers. Every facility offers the same educational and treatment opportunity, regardless of the crimes committed.

(In this video from The Missouri Approach, young people talk about the success that Missouri’s juvenile justice system has had in their lives and share their positive plans for their futures.)
In a summary published in the 2012 summer edition of American Educator titled, Metamorphosis: How Missouri Rehabilitates Juvenile Offenders, author Jennifer Dubin explains how completely revamping the juvenile correctional system has transformed the way that the state approaches rehabilitating youth for the better. For example, Missouri’s Division of Youth Service (DYS) runs the juvenile facilities in the state, which are completely separate from the court’s jurisdiction once a youth is sentenced to a DYS facility.

SAMHSA Guide to Identifying Child Mental Health and Substance use Problems

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) published a comprehensive guide, “Identifying Mental Health and Substance Use Problems of Children and Adolescents: A Guide for Child Service Organizations” to promote early identification of children and adolescents with mental health and substance use problems.
SAMSHA audited a variety of available tools for identifying substance abuse problems in youth, and created a matrix of the most useful tools. Many of these screening tools are free, and others are available for a nominal fee.
Geared toward personnel working in child-serving organizations and families of children and adolescents being served, the guide offers strategies and methods for identifying problems in high-risk youth. According to the guide,

Almost 21 percent of children and adolescents in the United States have a diagnosable mental health or addictive disorder that affects their ability to function.
In any given year, 5 percent to 9 percent of youths ages 9 to 17 have a serious emotional disturbance that causes substantial impairment in how they function at home, at school, or in the community.

While most children develop coping skills for these life disturbances, those who don’t often lack the resources needed to receive treatment. Via the guide,

Addressing Youth Crime by Teaching Social Skills through Sports

Enrolling disadvantaged teens in pro-social activities may greatly decrease violent crime arrests and increase graduation rates, according to a new study by the University of Chicago Crime Lab
In the Crime Lab study, 800 disadvantaged boys in grades 7 - 10 were placed in Becoming a Man - Sports Edition (BAM-Sports Edition) programs during the 2009-2010 school year. The participating boys experienced a 44 percent drop in arrests for violent crime and a 23 percent increase in graduation rates. 
The BAM-Sports Edition program focuses on devleoping skills related to emotional regulation, control of stress response, interpersonal problem solving, goal setting and personal integrity. These are social-cognitive skills that research shows predict success inIt includes small group sessions, out-of-class homework assignments and after-school sports activities. The sports activities are designed to reinforce conflict resolution skills and program attendance.
According to the research brief:

Artists Offer Positive Youth Development, Mentoring in Snohomish County

I believe all young people can succeed.
The professionals, community members and other caring adults in Snohomish County, Washington agree.
Annie Mulligan and other generous artists in Snohomish County are mentoring young photographers through a program called Promising Artists in Recovery (PAIR), modeled after Reclaiming Futures. The PAIR program connects teens in the county's juvenile justice system with local artists. This powerful work introduces young people, like Ayrton Clements, to mentors along the road to success. Ayrton’s photography appears at right.
The second installment of this three-part series in was featured July 16, 2012 in The Herald of Everett, Wash.

School Counselors Not Trained to Address Teen Dating Violence, Study Finds

In the report, “Adolescent Dating Violence: A National Assessment of School Counselors’ Perceptions and Practices” researchers surveyed 550 school counselors about adolescent dating violence (ADV) and current practices for dealing with it. The majority of counselors reported that have dealt with ADV but haven’t had any training on proper protocol for helping survivors.
It’s no secret that dating violence is a big problem in the United States. According to the report’s press release, past studies have linked adolescent dating violence with everything from thoughts of suicide to unhealthy weight gain.

Positive Adult Role Models Central to Teens’ Success in Juvenile Justice System and Beyond, says Report

A report released on National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day details the extent to which traumatic events impact children and young people involved in the juvenile justice system. In addition, the report points out the importance of children and teens developing close relationships with caring adults soon after entering the juvenile justice and child welfare systems.
"Promoting Recovery and Resilience for Children and Youth Involved in Juvenile Justice and Child Welfare Systems,” examines the positive impact that the Children's Mental Health Initiative (CMHI) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Child Traumatic Stress Initiative (NCTSI) has had with children and youth by creating a “trauma-informed workforce.” Trauma-informed workplaces collaborate “to develop, implement, [and] evaluate effective trauma treatment and services. In addition, [they partner] with other community agencies to promote service delivery approaches so that trauma services are effectively implemented within local child-serving community service systems.”
Despite the fact that it’s possible for some young people to experience traumatic events and come out virtually unscathed, studies show that victimization can often lead to life changing consequences and result in a multitude of issues later in life. According to an NCTSN study, children and adolescents who have experienced traumatic events are at increased risk of being arrested in the future. In some cases, young adults who have experienced traumatic events are as much as five times more likely to go through the juvenile justice system.

Washington: Music-Therapy Helps At-Risk and Troubled Teens

In Snohomish County, Washington, troubled teens attend music classes and transform from "youth offenders" to "musicians." This is part of a partnership between the Snohomish County Music Project and Reclaiming Futures Snohomish County.
The Music Project is a nonprofit organization that came into being after the Everetty Symphony fell on hard times. The Symphony board decided to change its mission from an arts organization to a human service organization with music-therapy programs.
From the Daily Herald: