Blog: Positive Youth Development

Texas Teens Dancing Against Drugs, Alcohol

We're spending the week in San Antonio for the Reclaiming Futures Leadership Institute (which you may already know if you're following @RFutures on Twitter). For those not on Twitter, we'll be posting updates here on the blog and on Facebook.
This afternoon, local teens from SACADA (San Antonio Council on Drug and Alcohol Abuse)'s HYPE group (Helping Youth Prevention through Entertainment) used choreographed hip hop dances to promote their healthy, drug-free lives. One dance featured one teen's struggle to resist peer pressure to use drugs and alcohol and ended with him saying a powerful NO and walking away. It was followed by a lighter number where they taught our treatment, judicial, community and program fellows how to do the electric slide!
When asked to share their reasons for joining the group, HYPE members mentioned the importance of being substance free and how good it felt to be making a difference for their peers and younger students. Reclaiming Futures isn't their normal audience. HYPE can often be found dancing for local elementary schools and speaking with students about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. 
HYPE members received not one, but TWO, much deserved standing ovations. Check them out!

2011's top 20 stories on juvenile justice and adolescent substance abuse, part 2

Continuing the countdown of the top 20 most popular stories on juvenile justice and adolescent substance abuse of 2011: 

#15. Why police need to better understand trauma and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Lisa H. Thurau explained why it's so important for police officers to understand the effects of trauma on children.
#14. Webinar: The School-to-Prison Pipeline
In this webinar, Judge Steven Teske explained how one school district worked to reduce referrals to juvenile courts while simultaneously addressing disruptive behavior. (The archived webinar is available for viewing.)
#13. "Beyond 'Scared Straight'" returns to promote a discredited juvenile justice intervention (roundup)
Ahead of the second season of "Beyond 'Scared Straight,'" we shared coverage discrediting Scared Straight and its methods.
#12. Why more cops in schools is a bad idea
A new report from the Justice Policy Institute found that an increase in the presence of law enforcement in schools coincides with increases in referrals to the juvenile justice system, especially for minor offenses like disordly conduct.
#11. Teen brain development: neural gawkiness
Chris Sturgis explained what goes on in the child and teenage brain and how we can use that knowledge to help youngsters keep out of trouble.

 Stay tuned for the TOP TEN most popular stories.. 

Generic anti-bullying classes found to be ineffective and more -- news roundup

Juvenile Justice Reform

  • California counties to pay the state $125,000 to house juvenile offenders
    California Governor Jerry Brown announced that the state has to pull the trigger on a series of mid-year budget cuts due to low tax revenues. One of those reductions shaves $67 million from the state’s juvenile justice budget. The cut will force counties to foot the bill for Juvenile Justice wards in state custody, at a cost of $125,000 per youth. Alameda County could be put in a $6.2 million bind.
  • Kentucky looks for better way to help young offenders
    Kentucky officials are looking for better ways to deal with youth who commit noncriminal offenses such as skipping school or running away. Research shows that detaining status offenders is the least effective and most expensive option. State leaders admit the system needs improvement.
  • Oregon will stop holding juvenile offenders in adult prison
    After federal auditors questioned the practice, Oregon has stopped temporarily holding youth in adult prisons. The Partnership for Safety and Justice, which works on criminal justice issues, won legislation in the 2011 session to encourage local authorities to hold youth in juvenile facilities while they await trial.
  • New Report: Generic anti-bullying classes found to be ineffective
    OJJDP has issued a report in which bullying in schools is examined and recommendations are made for the best ways schools can provide support to bullying victims. The study found generic curriculum is an ineffective substitute for student-focused engagement strategies.
  • Ohio Courts use internet for greater connectivity
    Ohio’s Coshocton County’s Common Pleas Court, Juvenile and Probate Court and Municipal Court are using the internet to share information more easily with the public and other courts. The Common Pleas Court launched a searchable database for the public that features basic information on open and closed cases with the court.
  • South Carolina law enforcement officers complete DJJ gang, violence prevention training
    Recognizing that many kids face significant pressure to join a gang, the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice has partnered with the Gang Resistance Education and Training program in multiple communities across the state to bring the curriculum to local elementary and middle school youth.

Adolescent Substance Abuse Treatment

Call for Ideas for the health and success of young men of color

maisha simmons photoMany barriers make the path to adulthood especially difficult for young men of color. They are more likely to grow up in poverty, live in unsafe neighborhoods and go to under-resourced schools. Moreover, actions that for other young men would be treated as youthful mistakes are judged more severely and are more likely to have lasting consequences. What is at stake for America is the possibility of losing an entire generation of productive men, who will fall short of their potential, live less healthy and successful lives, and fail to build and strengthen their communities.
Forward Promise -- an initiative of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation -- seeks to find the best ideas to help young men of color succeed in life, school and work. Through this Call for Ideas, we are actively seeking ideas from a broad group of individuals and organizations -- ideas that will help shape our future grantmaking strategy. Ultimately, Forward Promise will identify promising and innovative programs, policies and approaches to evaluate what works, and spread successful models to communities that need them.
Please submit your innovative, collaborative approaches to improve the trajectory for middle- and high-school-aged young men of color in two or more of the following three areas: health, education and employment.
If you have questions, please join the Forward Promise Forum.


A Day on the Street with a Juvenile Probation Officer in Clayton County, Georgia

Ronaldi Rollins’ view from his corner office on the third floor is typical of metro Atlanta. A parking lot, some two-story apartment building, all nestled in the middle of a bunch of pine trees. Welcome to Jonesboro, Ga., command central for one juvenile probation officer in charge of 20 struggling teens.
To pay a visit to Rollins, a kid has to make it past two levels of security. First, the metal detector and officer at the front door. Then comes the thick, fiberglass window and receptionist at the third floor waiting room. Just about every door, with the exception of the restrooms, requires a four-digit code to pass.
But probationers showing up unannounced may have a hard time finding Rollins behind his desk.
juvenlie-justice-system_Rollins-at-door“A big part of my job is mentoring,” Rollins [seen in photos above and at right] says. And the best way to be a mentor is to relate to the kids on common ground. And common ground means the front yards, street corners, vacant lots and schoolyards of this suburban Atlanta community they all call home.
In Clayton County, juvenile probation beats are divided by school. That means an officer assigned to Lovejoy High School, for instance, would likely supervise kids living in the city of Lovejoy.
But Rollins works a different kind of beat. He’s tasked with overseeing the Clayton County Virtual Alternative School, and that means keeping up with kids from one end of the county to the other, from Lovejoy to Forest Park.
Forest Park. That’s where 15-year-old Marko was picked up on a probation violation after taking his mom’s car, again.

Positive Youth Development: Youth Lead Change in Chicago Schools

[About a month ago we published a post titled, School-to-Prison Pipeline: Chicago Youth Calling for a Dollars and Sense Policy, in which a guest columnist wrote about a group of Chicago high school students who had organized to protest against zero tolerance discipline policies. Their report, Failed Policies, Broken Futures: the True Cost of Zero Tolerance in Chicago, got a lot of attention in the media, including a story by NPR. --Ed.]
juvenile-justice-system_cover-of-failed-policies-broken-futures-reportVoices of Youth in Chicago Education (VOYCE) is a youth-led collaborative  made up of seven community organizations and eight high schools across the city of Chicago working to lower the dropout rate and increase college readiness in our schools. As youth leaders with Logan Square Neighborhood Association (one of the organizations involved in VOYCE), we want to share what being youth leaders in our school and community has meant to us. Being part of VOYCE has brought many changes in our lives, in our school, and in our community.
One question that adults sometimes ask is, “How do you get youth involved?” In our experience, there is a big difference between attending your first meeting and actually staying involved and becoming a youth leader. Many of us get involved because we are struggling in school and want to find a way to improve, or, simply because we have friends who are in VOYCE.
But we stay because we feel like we are a part of something important.

The U.K. Youth Riots - What Do Young People Think? (Roundup)

juvenile-justice-sytem_old-TVWhat did young people in the U.K. think about the recent riots in the U.K.?  Here's a few answers (one free registration required for most items):

  • Young people unite to air their views on riots
    "Young people turned out in their scores in central London as part of an event aimed at giving them the opportunity to air their views on the recent unrest and its causes."
  • Young people must be consulted on the causes of violence
    "Young people from areas affected by violence and looting have spoken out to condemn the riots and have called for more attention to be placed on young voices as the causes of the outbreaks begin to be examined." (No log-in required.)
  • Young people blame riots on "mindless vandalism"
    "This month's rioting was caused by "mindless vandalism" rather than cuts to youth services and inequality, according to a survey of young people."
  • U.K. Children's Minister Denies Link Between Riots and Youth Cuts
    He said "current reports estimate three-quarters of those charged in relation to the riots are over 18, and it would be wrong to condemn a whole generation of young people." He went on to say that, "Recent events highlight the importance of ensuring a 'positive for youth' mindset is promoted so young people get the credit they deserve for the good work they do," he said.

    In other words, instead of an "unfunded mandate," he's talking about an "unfunded mindset" for youth.

U.K. Riots - Talking Points and Observations from Three Youth Advocates

positive-youth-development_youth-in-hoodiesThere's no question that the riots in the U.K. last week -- mostly perpetrated by young people and young adults -- generated a lot of outrage on both sides of the Atlantic.
One of the hot topics in the U.K. was Prime Minister David Cameron's about-face. In 2006, he gave a speech designed to "reposition his party as tough on the causes of crime, urging a greater focus on the family and on the social influences driving children to offend," rather than on police crackdowns. This became known as his "Hug a Hoodie" campaign (#hugahoodie suddenly became a very popular hashtag on Twitter last week). But in the wake of the riots, Cameron promised the rioters, "We will track you down, we will find you, we will charge you, we will punish you." (You can see a fairly balanced AP story on Cameron's about-face and the politics of responses to youth crime in the Britain and the U.S. here.)
Commenters in the United States have also been quick to pile on their scorn for "soft on crime" approaches, so I thought it would be useful to hear more thoughtful responses from youth experts familiar with youth in the juvenile justice system and common policy responses. Several were kind enough to email me their quick thoughts:

The U.K. Riots and How to Help Youth in the Justice System Use Their Powers for Good (VIDEO)

juvenile-justice-system_U.K.-policeman-kneels-on-back-of-teenagerIn the wake of the images and footage we've all seen coming out of the U.K. this week, as teens and young adults rioted and looted in London and other cities, it will be hard for the general public to remember that young people who commit crimes have strengths -- and have something to offer.
Youth should, of course, be held accountable for their actions. But youth workers in Britain understand that fear of teens as a result of the riots may well set the field back by years (e.g., "Youth charities blast riots as disastrous for image of young people"), especially if the only response is a punitive, nail-'em-and-a-jail-'em-response that neglects to provide appropriate supportive services that will help young people be successfull.
And I expect that fear of young people will rise in the United States, too. Which is why this brief, two-minute video interview (below) with Connie Flanagan, a national expert on engaging troubled youth in civic life, is timely.
A professor of Youth Civic Development at Penn State University the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Ms. Flanagan speaks about the importance of giving youth in the juvenile justice system the opportunity to work together with adults on projects that benefit their communities. Only then do they get a chance to see that what they do can change their communities for the better -- they can use their powers for good, in other words.
(I should point out that Ms. Flanagan was interviewed in May, well before the riots, and was addressing a general question about how to help youth in the juvenile justice system. I just happen to think that what she said is a helpful reminder about how we can work to make sure that youth feel that they matter, and that they're invested enough in their communities so that they don't engage in riots.)
Watch the video after the jump:

Stopping the Revolving Door: Advances in Juvenile Justice in the National Drug Control Strategy

adolescent-substance-abuse-juvenile-justice_staircaseEliminating the revolving door of the criminal and juvenile justice systems is one of the Nation’s biggest challenges in reducing the devastating consequences of drug use. It deprives our youngest generations of their chance to lead healthy, safe and productive lives, and often fosters intergenerational violence. That’s why the Obama Administration is taking steps to prevent young people from becoming involved in drug use and crime, and providing intervention, treatment, alternatives to incarceration, and reentry support for those that do.
Last year, the Administration released its inaugural strategy for coordinating national drug control activities and reducing the effects of drug use and its consequences and stressed the need for effective substance abuse treatment for adolescents. The week before last, the 2011 National Drug Control Strategy built upon that foundation and expanded support for these efforts. Evidence-based, early interventions are critical tools to keep young people from cycling in and out of the juvenile justice system, or worse, entering and cycling through the adult system. Youth should not only be screened and treated for substance use problems, but also for unmet emotional, behavioral, or academic needs.

Working with Teens in the Juvenile Justice System on Racism and Oppression (VIDEO)

juvenile-justice-system_black-child-staring-out-from-behind-barsI know from experience how hard it is to get a group of adults to sit down and talk productively about issues of systemic oppression and racism -- acknowledging these issues, with the goal of addressing them. I also know that the resulting conversations, if well-facilitated, can create and deepen relationships between co-workers, friends, and people who've never met before. 
But imagine doing it with kids on your probation caseload.
I was impressed, proud, and full of admiration when I learned that the Reclaiming Futures site in Bristol County, Massachusetts had done exactly that, and still is. In fact, the program got written up in their local paper.  
So when I got a chance to sit down with Estella Rebeiro, senior juvenile probation officer in Bristol County, to talk about the group for youth on probation that she ran with Deirdre Lopes, director of the H.O.P.E. (Healthy Opportunities for Peaceful Engagement) Collaborative, I grabbed it. Here's a brief video interview with Ms. Rebeiro, done at the Reclaiming Futures Leadership Institute held in May 2011:

Youth Courts 101: A How-to Video Primer and Manual

juvenile-justice-system_youth-courtjuvenile-justice-system_Greg-BermanGreg Berman, director of the Center for Court Innovation in New York City (seen at right), gives an excellent overview of how youth courts work in this video interview with The courts are completely teen-driven, with teens as judges, attorneys and juries who hear actual cases either referred by the police or the courts. Each teen judge, attorney or juror gets 30 hours of training and has to pass a “bar exam” to be able to serve.
In the youth courts Berman’s center helps oversee, the kids running the courts come from a variety of backgrounds, so the offenders are being judged by their real peers. In fact, kids who once came before the court often come back later to serve as judges, attorneys and jurors, so Berman says it can be “a life changing experience.”
Kids sent to the court have already admitted guilt and are at the mercy of their peers to design the sanctions that will be administered.
The kids ask great questions, Berman says, and have “great BS detectors.” They listen to the individual cases and then the jury delivers a sanction that, according to Berman, tends to emphasize restoration.
The outcome might be a letter of apology, public service work or links to anger management. It turns peer pressure on its head, he says, making it a positive rather than a negative and that is the nub of the youth court idea.
Watch the video below for more details. You can download the manual on Recommended Practices for Youth Courts published by the Center for Court Innovation.

House of Representatives Proposes Deep Cuts for Juvenile Justice, and More: Roundup


Recommendations from High School Teens Shape Community Justice Center in Brooklyn

positive-youth-development_figures-in-graffittiOn June 9th, I got to watch as the members of the Center for Court Innovation’s Youth Justice Board – all high school students -- presented their final report, titled Looking Forward: Youth Perspectives on Reducing Juvenile Crime in Brownsville and Beyond, recommending strategies for reducing youth crime in Brownsville, Brooklyn, to an audience that included Brownsville community leaders and residents, juvenile justice system stakeholders, and friends and family.
The Youth Justice Board is an afterschool program that brings together high school-aged youth from across New York City interested in working on a policy issue that affects them and their peers.
Members of the Board work in two-year cycles, spending their first year building relationships with organizations and individuals working on similar topics while gathering information for their  recommendations. In the second year, these relationships can become true partnerships, allowing the Board to create and implement projects that, with the support of the partnering agency, will be that much more effective.
Last program cycle, for example, the Board studied the juvenile justice system in New York City. During the first year, one of the Board’s recommendations was that youth and their families needed more information about how the juvenile justice system works.

Karen Pittman: Kids Need Caring Adults (Video)

Karen Pittman (left), President and CEO of the Forum for Youth Investment, has a saying about working with teens that's worth repeating: "Problem-free is not fully prepared."
How does that apply to teens in the alcohol and drug treatment, or kids in the juvenile justice system?
Focusing just on helping teens get sober or crime-free isn't enough. Like other teens, they have developmental needs they need to meet to be successful. They need support and opportunities to grow their social skills, emotional skills, navigational skills ... competencies that are key to growing up and becoming contributing adults. 
How do young people build those skills? They need to be connected with caring adults, in places where they can practice those skills with appropriate feedback.
The trouble is, as Ms. Pittman explained in a brief video interview (see below) that we did with her at the Reclaiming Futures Leadership Institute in May, most efforts to help kids succeed are focused primarily on educational and vocational skills. These are critical, but the trick is to find the caring adults and the places where teens can build and practice those "soft" skills. 
Check out what she has to say:

Summer Symposium on Mentoring Research at PSU: "Ted Talks" Format for Mentoring Juvenile Justice/Child Welfare Youth

positive-youth-development_kids-soaring-off-rocks-sunset[Interested in what researchers have to say about mentoring young people who have had contact with the juvenile justice and foster care systems?
The Center for Interdisciplinary Mentoring Research at Portland State University (PSU) has invited, the author wrote me, "not one, not six, but 12 researchers to give back-to-back presentations in a "Ted Talks" format ... all on mentoring young people." That's what I call a mentoring lollapalooza! Read on for details. -Ed.]

The Portland State University (PSU) Center for Interdisciplinary Mentoring Research is proud to present the Summer Symposium on Mentoring Research. This special one-day symposium is for a national audience of professionals from youth mentoring programs or working in the fields of child welfare, juvenile justice, mental health, and education. Throughout the day, distinguished researchers will give short, substantive talks highlighting their most important and intriguing findings. It will be a fast-paced, stimulating presentation of thought-provoking topics and trends in youth mentoring. Attendees will have opportunities to discuss these themes and to network with colleagues.

Karen Pittman: Helping Teens Beat the Odds Is Not Enough (Video)

Isn't it great when you see a young person beat the odds? You know what I mean -- you'll read a story or see a video about a teen who struggled with drugs, alcohol, and crime, and somehow overcame all of that (and probably more) ... and it just makes you feel fantastic, doesn't it?
Well, it should. But Karen Pittman, CEO and Founder of the Forum for Youth Investment, has an even more inspiring idea, which she shared in an interview at the Reclaiming Futures Leadership Institute held in Miami in May:

You can also see Karen's full presentation at the Reclaiming Futures Leadership Institute here. 

Dr. Jeffrey Butts on Positive Youth Development in Juvenile Justice (Video Interview)

Positive youth development is a key part of Reclaiming Futures. But what the heck is "positive youth development?" According to juvenile justice researcher Dr. Jeffrey Butts, it blends what we know about adolescent development and what we know about effective services.
But don't take it from me -- here's a brief interview on the subject that I did with Dr. Butts at the Reclaiming Futures Leadership Institute held in Miami in May:

Bonus: here's how to implement positive youth development in the juvenile justice system.

Teens Make Recommendations to Reduce Youth Crime in Brooklyn

positive-youth-development_youth-justice-board-recommendationsOn Thursday afternoon, I was busy calming the nerves of ten teenagers, who were about to step onto a stage and give the first of two presentations on their newly published recommendations about how to reduce youth crime in Brownsville, Brooklyn, a small community with one of the highest crime rates in New York City. These young people, members of the Center for Court Innovation’s Youth Justice Board program, had been preparing for this moment for ten months.  
The Board members completed a final read-through of their speaking parts and made their way onto the stage for the program to begin. During the welcome address, a Brownsville community leader shared some of her personal struggles growing up in the neighborhood, including a period during her teenage years when she decided to sell drugs -- or, at least, she tried to.
Neighborhood dealers that she approached with her plan took one look at her and said, “You’re a good girl. Go back to school.” One high-school diploma, one college diploma, and one law degree later, she addressed the crowd with the message that anything is possible.
Something else struck me during her speech—the underlying lesson that sometimes the best ideas come from the most unexpected places. Sometimes it is the people that we aren’t used to listening to who have the ideas that we most need to hear. 

Positive Youth Development: Poetry in the Classroom and a Teen Poem about Skipping School

positive-youth-development_youth-in-classroom[The following post is reprinted with permission from the Pongo Teen Writing website, run by Richard Gold.

It consists of three poems from the students in Leslie Schicht’s class at Global Connections High School in SeaTac, Washington, and an email from Melissa Struyk, who interned with Ms. Schicht this year. Struyk and Schicht used the Pongo web site to teach a poetry unit for ninth graders, which resulted in the teachers deepening their knowledge of the students, and the students deepening their connections to one another.
I have republished it here because one of the poems the students voted to submit, "Skipping School," is particularly relevant for youth in the justice system, and because Pongo's writing exercises are well-suited not just for mainstream classrooms, but for working with youth in trouble with the law or struggling with drugs and alcohol. See Gold's post, "Poetry as Treatment for Youth in the Juvenile Justice System." -Ed.]
Here's the first of three poems the students voted to submit to a contest through Pongo Teen Writing:
Skipping School 
by JE 

I come to school and start 
I see the cops and I start 
The principal came out and started 
I was running so fast that I started 
I was so scared that I stopped 
I can do nothing to 
      Fix it.
But I still have to 
      Mix it.
Now look at me and tell me what you 
A young boy coming out of the streets trying to be something you can't 
This is me, and I'm not trying to be what you can't see.