Juvenile crime is decreasing nationwide. But here in North Carolina, our drop in teen crime is almost double the national average. In fact, violent crimes committed by teens 16 and younger have dropped by nearly 37%. So how did we accomplish this?
In 2003, we shifted our approach to focus on prevention and treatment. More recently, we’ve begun implementing the Reclaiming Futures model to coordinate care and improve drug and alcohol treatment for justice-involved youth.
When I first learned of Reclaiming Futures, my heart beat faster over the prospects of what it could accomplish. I immediately recognized early on what I’ve now come to describe as Reclaiming Futures’ “practice principles” – those elements of daily and organizational practice that make it work, and that improve or reform the system in which they are embedded.
These principles are of my own modification. Yet to me, they capture the essence of juvenile court reforms as catalyzed by Reclaiming Futures:
- Evidence-based (data driven) decision making – we should attempt with all intention to take our personal values and cultures out of the decisions we make regarding vulnerable youth. Reclaiming Futures drives this through evidence-based screening, assessment and the use of evidence-informed clinical interventions.
- Judicial leadership and court management – that’s right, without the judges’ buy-in, nothing in the juvenile court flies. And I’ve found that Reclaiming Futures judges buy in because they become significantly better informed by the data collected, the teams giving input around the table, and clear options for kids under their supervision and care. This “stakeholder buy-in” includes a commitment from judges to regularly bring cases back into the courtroom for reviews to recognize both the positive and negative changes that may be occurring with youth.
- Engaged communities with court staff having a primary case management function (if the youth is on supervision or an agreed-upon court plan) – sort of a corollary to the judicial leadership bullet, having a focal point in the juvenile justice system for coordinating services, engaging formal and informal helping systems, and balancing public safety with treatment, intervention and pro-social engagement makes perfect sense…and Reclaiming Futures sets up this organizational picture by virtue of the 6-step model. This does not mean that the court staff “control” the process; rather, they are the accountable hub in the wheel of collaboration and case management since they are required by law to be accountable for case outcomes to the juvenile court judges.
- Continuous quality management and improvement – Reclaiming Futures is designed to be driven by constant monitoring, feedback, team meetings and data consideration. In my view, every juvenile court should be doing the exact same thing (with or without Reclaiming Futures). By necessity, these processes will require sharing of information and data within and across agencies and systems --- and after all, shouldn’t we be finding ways to do this so that the system adapts to the child/family and not the other way around? These principles drive excellence that the methodology for measuring both process and outcome.