Blog: Positive Youth Development

Department of Labor Helps At-Risk Youth ‘STRIVE for the Future’

STRIVE, a New York City-based organization with 21 affiliates throughout the United States, was recently awarded a three-year, $5 million grant from the United States Department of Labor for a new, nationwide initiative called STRIVE for the Future.
The program is centered on providing services and assistance to formerly incarcerated youth, with the grant expected to benefit about 400 teens.
A recent press release from the organization said the initiative will focus on juveniles ages 14 and older who primarily come from high-poverty and high-crime communities and were involved in the juvenile justice system, but not the adult criminal system, within the last 12 months.
The organization says it will provide numerous tools and services such as career development assistance and various forms of training and education for at-risk youth.

Teens in Juvenile Justice System Creating Hope and Opportunity through The Beat Within's Writing and Art Program

For the better part of the last two decades, The Beat Within has been committed to a mission of providing incarcerated youth with a forum where they can write (and draw) about the things that matter most to them, explore how they have lost connection with those things they value, and consider how they might re-connect to positive situations in their lives through the power of the written word.
This is a program that started small, in the Bay Area, with a commitment to provide detained kids between the ages of 11 to 18 with a safe space to share their ideas and experiences while promoting literacy, self-expression, some critical thinking skills, and healthy, supportive relationships with adults and their community.
That modest local effort has grown into a nationwide program that touches the lives of more than 5,000 youth in detention. Today, you can find weekly Beat workshops going on in 12 California county juvenile halls, from Alameda to San Diego. We are partnering with universities from U.C. Berkeley to the University of Hawaii. Meanwhile, the workshop model for The Beat is being replicated in Arizona, Texas, Alabama, New Mexico, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, D.C., and, thanks to the JJIE, Georgia.

Breaking the Barriers: Texas Teens Use Sledgehammers to Break Through Negative Influences

Many of the youth who enter the Samuel F. Santana Challenge Academy have barriers that contributed to their negative behavior. Without overcoming those barriers, many of our youth will continue their negative behavior long after they are out of the juvenile system.
While working at the Challenge Academy, I came up with an idea for a way our challenge youth could identify their own barriers and move forward. On the track, there was a 4x4 cement slab that was used for Challenge's flag pole. That slab was not being utilized and had to be removed for a future project. I had a vision for the concrete slab that involved giving the teens an opportunity to write down barriers that they wanted to break on the slab and then literally breaking them.
In their own words, each teen had a section of the concrete to write and draw their barriers down. One section of the concrete was dedicated for all of the juveniles to trace their right hand in a promise to make a commitment to break their barriers. Once the entire slab was complete, on May 7th at 5:00 pm, a Break the Barriers ceremony was conducted.

Troubled Teen Trades Violence for Camera

A young woman in South Los Angeles is trading her violent past for a video camera in order to break the cycle of violence in her neighborhood.
When she was 12, Claudia Gómez lost her sister to a violent ex-boyfriend. Her grief became anger which led to violence and she hurt people. But everything changed when she became pregnant and had a daughter. She turned her life around and began working at FREE L.A. High, a charter school that educates students who've spent time in the correctional system. In addition to a traditional education, students at FREE L.A. High learn about social justice and community organizing. 
Now, Claudia is working with documentary filmmaker Jennifer Maytorena Taylor to film and produce thoughtful and honest interviews with former teen offenders about their lives.

From KQED's California Report:

In Baltimore, Police Mentor Troubled Kids (and Keep Them Out of Juvenile Justice System)

In Baltimore, Maryland's Eastern District, police officers are taking a proactive and community-centered approach to keeping families and neighborhoods safe. 
Police officers realize that in order to be effective at their jobs, they need to build trust and cooperation with the communities they serve. And a police force in Baltimore is going one step further by actively working to find solutions to their community's problems and becoming positive mentors to children in rough neighborhoods.
Writing in today's Baltimore Sun, police officer Quinise Green explains:

We see ourselves not just as enforcers of the law but also as problem solvers and supporters of the people in our "hood."Our district commander demands that we be an integral part of the community. We go on walks with stakeholders in the neighborhoods to identify problems and find ways to fix them. If we see kids playing where they aren't supposed to, we don't just yell at them to move; we find another place they can play.
One such place is the Eisenhower Foundation Oliver Center, which is funded through the Department of Justice and home to the Youth Safe Haven program. I serve as a mentor to high-risk kids from the Barclay neighborhood at the center. Their lives are littered with challenges most Americans don't have to face: hunger, homelessness, parents with serious substance abuse problems and wrenching poverty. Some days, the snack and lunch at the youth safe haven is their only meal. It is a tough life for our 6-to-11-year-olds. For many of these children, the program has been their lifeline for survival.

National Prevention Week is May 20-26!

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has created a new annual health initiative called National Prevention Week. This year’s event will span May 20-26, with the theme: “We are the ones. How are you taking action?”
SAMHSA’s mission is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America's communities. This national observance celebrates the work that community organizations and individuals do year-round to prevent substance abuse and promote mental, emotional, and behavioral wellbeing, while serving as an opportunity for community members to learn more about behavioral health issues and get involved in prevention efforts throughout the year.
The event’s dates were strategically selected to coincide with the beginning of summer, a season filled with celebrations and recreational activities that can potentially be linked to substance use and abuse (such as graduation parties, proms, weddings, boating and camping excursions); it is also timed to allow schools to take part in a prevention-themed event before the school year ends, raising awareness in students of all ages.

Wake Forest Law School Students Mentor Troubled Teens in North Carolina

An integral part of Reclaiming Futures' six step model is connecting troubled young people with positive and caring adult mentors. In Forsyth County, North Carolina, Wake Forest Law School students are volunteering their time to mentor teens and provide that positive influence.
Our very own judicial fellow Judge William B. Reingold spearheaded the partnership between the Pro Bono Project and Reclaiming Futures. He recruited students by sharing the benefits of being a mentor while detailing the great need in Forsyth County. 
Writing in the Pro Bono Project's blog, law student Ramie Shalabi explains the partnership:

The Wake Forest University School of Law students meet at least once a week with their mentees and participate in activities such as bowling, prom dress shopping, and playing basketball. The mentors are required to write “contact notes,” which they submit to Advanced Placement monthly, to help ensure that the program is running effectively.
Although law students make a one-year commitment to the program, most of this year’s mentors have expressed their desire to remain involved in their mentee’s lives. Kelsey Baird (’13), a mentor, called her experience “valuable as it is fulfilling . . . and one of the best programs I’ve been involved in at Wake Forest.”

Use Poetry to Help At-Risk Youth Sort Out Who They Are

Poetry is powerful. Clinical psychologist Rebecca Chalmers sees that power whenever she uses poetry as a therapeutic tool.
“When young people share a poem they’ve written, and everyone says that it’s beautiful, that’s supporting who they are and how they’re able to intellectually and emotionally express themselves, and that feels so good,” says Chalmers, who practices in New York and has a Master of Fine Arts in poetry.
As a mode of expression, poetry is tailor-made for teens. “Poetry is very immediate and about the self and helps sort out ‘who I am’ in a way that speaks to them,” Chalmers says. And working on poetry with a group of other youth can feed teens’ need to relate, she says. “By the time they’ve written something and shared it with other group members and gotten that supportive feedback, they form such a bond.”

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!

Working for a Better Future: Improving Public Safety by Employing Youth

In Washington, D.C., a robust and holistic employment program for youth is key to building positive life outcomes for the District’s teens and creating safer communities. In our most recent research brief, Working for a Better Future: How expanding employment opportunities for D.C.’s youth creates public safety benefits for all residents, the Justice Policy Institute (JPI) describes how youth unemployment in D.C. ranges between 1.6 and 2.3 times the national average and how increases in youth employment rates have been linked to decreased rates of arrest in the city.

Having a job has been shown to be a “protective factor” against crime and arrests for youth. Jobs help young people gain experience in the work world and effective job assistance programs provide youth with mentoring, life skills training, and a connection to their community.

Conversely, unemployment can have detrimental effects. Youth who are disconnected to institutions of education or employment represent an annual taxpayer cost of $13,900 and a social cost of $37,450. Investments in job assistance programs, however, are a fraction of this expense, and help cut back the taxpayer and social costs while setting a young person up for a lifetime of success. The brief mentions examples from across the country of effective youth workforce development programs that have yielded positive results including public safety benefits, positive life outcomes for youth and cost savings, including programs like YouthBuild, YearUp, Strive and Job Corps being utilized in the District.

Mentoring: Best Practices for High Risk Youth

As Reclaiming Futures sites look for ways to connect youth with long-term supports, many of them turn to one-on-one mentoring programs. Several sites are utilizing law students from local universities as their sources for these mentors, while other sites try to build up connections with the natural helpers in a youth‘s life, such as a parent or relative.
Mentoring has been shown to be an effective intervention for working with high-risk youth. An evaluation of the Big Brothers/ Big Sisters mentoring program by Public/ Private Ventures (P/PV) demonstrated that mentored youth were:

  • 46% less likely than controls to initiate drug use
  • 27% less likely to initiate alcohol use than controls

These findings were even more significant for minority participants who were 70% less likely to initiate drug use and 50% less likely to initiate alcohol use.
So what makes certain mentoring programs more successful than others?

The SparkOpportunity Challenge: Jon Bon Jovi Wants to Hear Your Ideas!

We all know that the economy is in a dismal place and unemployment is high. The latest jobs numbers are disheartening. If you’re up on recent research like Opportunity Road, then you know that young people are being hit especially hard. In fact, one in six young people ages 16 to 24—nearly 7 million kids—are out of school and unemployed.

The consequences for these young people and their families are severe, as are the costs to our nation as a whole. We’re missing out on the talents of millions of young people at a time when we have serious shortages of skilled workers.
It’s fitting, then, that the White House Council for Community Solutions—a coalition of leaders in business, government, art and philanthropy—chose disconnected youth as its focus, and has called on government and the private sector to step up and prioritize these issues.

Using Graffiti to Improve Teen Outcomes in Denver

Graffiti is a common sight in the neighborhood around the Access Art Gallery in Denver – not inside, hanging on the walls – but scribbled, pasted or painted on nearly every dumpster and wall for blocks.
“There’s a lot of kids going back and forth through the neighborhood. There was tagging all over the place,” says Damon McLeese, the gallery’s executive director.
Like many places across the country, Denver’s streets show scars of vandalism: Stickers on street signs, scrawls of fat-tipped markers across doorways, and spray paint arching down from seemingly impossible heights.
But where many businesses would have seen an unstoppable scourge of youth defacing private property, McLeese saw an opportunity for a project that would redirect some of the kids’ creative energies and help improve the community.

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

Using art at a juvenile detention facility to teach teens about starting over

I am teaching writing and art in a six-week program at Denney Juvenile Justice Center. The workshop is a part of the National Reclaiming Futures Program. Reclaiming Futures helps young people in trouble with drugs, alcohol, and crime. The six-step model unites juvenile courts, probation, treatment and the community to reclaim youth.
The program being implemented by community members and artists in my community is PAIR–Promising Artists in Recovery. Our final week will be a trip to the new Schack Art Center where the kids will have an opportunity to blow glass in the hot glass shop.
This week, we taught a lesson called, “Clean Slate.” We began by handing out half-sheets of paper, and asked the kids to think of a time when they were “criticized or felt not good enough.” I used the example of how I always felt like I wasn’t smart in high school. High school was a bit of a challenge for me. I’d always done well in middle school, but when I got to high school, the rules seemed to change. In English class, I worked hard on my papers. My journalist Mom edited for me, and I typed–sometimes many times–before I turned them in. But, I’d still, receive low grades on those dreaded five-paragraph essays. It took until I was a teacher myself to understand all the dynamics of learning, and to see that some learning styles are different than others. Not bad or good–just different.
We also spent time talking to the kids about how constructive feedback is helpful to an artist, and it’s important to know how to find and receive that constructive feedback on a work in progress. I shared with the kids my recently edited manuscript, STAINED GLASS SUMMER (December 2011). I talked about how my editor helped me to find the inconsistencies in the story, and how she is helping me to clean up the wording so the sentences read smoothly. The whole process reminds me of my class in stained glass when we cleaned, polished, and shined our glass projects.
After our discussion, the kids wrote down words, images and phrases on their half sheet of paper about a time they felt “not good enough” or “criticized.”

Harlem Youth Court takes on juvenile justice

It’s a familiar courtroom scene: An advocate scribbling on a notepad prepares her closing statement. A judge presides, pounding her gavel to bring the hearing to order. She turns to the offender, a young man being tried for assault, and asks,
“Do you swear to tell the truth?”
“Yes,” he replies.
This is when things start to look different from a traditional courtroom. A juror stands, thanks him for attending, and says, “We just want to let you know we’re not here to judge you or criticize you.”
The juror, named Milagros, is a high school student. Everyone participating– judge, jury, advocate, clerk and offender – is under 18. At the Harlem Youth Court, kids who have committed low-level offenses can avoid formal prosecution and instead tell their side of a story to a jury of their peers.

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.