Blog: Youth Engagement

The Solution to a 27.47 Ton Problem

April in Dayton, Ohio generally means the winIMG_4366ter weather is starting to break. Snow showers and subzero temperatures are replaced with rain showers and flowers. For some neighborhoods in Dayton, Ohio the break in the weather brings light to a major issue. The issue of illegal dumping is highly visible once the piles of snow have melted away. In some instances, neighborhoods have been left with tons of trash and debris.  For several blocks certain alleyways can be found with couches, mattress, appliances and construction waste.

On April 1, 2015 Montgomery County Juvenile Court hosted its fourth annual community cleanup in the Fairview Neighborhood. This was a community effort, with multiple partners coming together to improve the appearance of one of our city’s neighborhoods.

Recapping the 2014 Georgetown Training Institutes

National HarborLast week I traveled to National Harbor, Maryland to attend the 2014 Georgetown University Training Institutes on improving services and supports for children, adolescents, and young adults with or at risk for mental health challenges and their families, along with Reclaiming Futures Fellowship Program Manager, Christa Myers.

This year the conference theme was, “Improving Children’s Mental Health Care in an Era of Change, Challenge and Innovation: The Role of the System of Care Approach” with an estimated attendance of 2,000. Below are my key takeaways.

The Youth Movement Has Arrived

Youth MOVE arrivesThere was a great youth track at the conference – and more often than not you could hear fellow attendees in the hallways saying that these sessions were better than any others they had attended.

Youth MOVE Rockstar AwardsBoth Youth M.O.V.E. National and local Youth M.O.V.E. chapters were well represented, along with many other youth organizations from around the country.  On Thursday night the 2014 recipients of the Youth MOVE Rockstar Awards were announced. The recipients were:

  • Niketa Currie, Youth M.O.V.E. North Carolina was named the 2014 Tricialouise Gurley-Millard Youth Advocate
  • Dr. JoAnne Malloy,  Institute On Disabilties was named the 2014 Dr. Gary M. Blau Professional of the Year
  • The Kentucky Partnership for Families and Children was named the 2014 Youth Guided Organizational Rockstar
  • Bruce Brumfield, Center for Community Alternatives was named the 2014 Marlene Matarese Advocate for Youth was named the 2014
  • Youth M.O.V.E. Miami was named the 2014 National Chapter
  • Gregory Foster was given the first ever Honorary Rockstar award for his continued dedication to youth and young adults who struggle with poverty and behavioral health needs.

And a special shout out to Youth M.O.V.E. Saginaw for contributing the soundtrack.


The Power of Storytelling
Homeboy Industries at Georgetown InstitutesStorytelling is critical for organizations dealing with complex issues. The Power of Story Telling: Digital Voices in a Digital Age was a special presentation on the first day of the conference. This session showcased first person narrative video stories by youth from Washington state’s Youth N Action.  

One Week Left: Nominate a Young Leader by July 16, 2012

Do you know someone 40 years old (or younger) who is working to improve health and health care for the future? Please nominate that person for a Young Leader Award: Recognizing Leadership for a Healthier America 
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is celebrating their 40th year by recognizing young people who are leading the way to improved health and health care for all Americans. Third party-only nominations are being accepted until July 16, 2012. Each winner will receive an individual award of $40,000.
Please read more about the characteristics for nominees at

Juvenile Crime Dips in Iowa and More; News Roundup

Juvenile Justice Reform

  • Youth Court: Students Dispense Justice to First-Time Juvenile Offenders (Tulsa World)
    In the Youth Court program, student volunteers serve as the prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges and bailiffs on cases involving first-time nonviolent juvenile offenders. The program operates in courts in Tulsa, Owasso and Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.
  • Juvenile Justice: Courts Turn Focus to Rehabilitation (
    In Coshocton, many first-time juvenile offenders are placed in a diversion program rather than having an official complaint filed right away. If a juvenile is caught stealing, for example, his diversion program might include a theft-specific counseling program along with a special class for him and his parents.
  • Juvenile Crime Dips in Iowa (
    Juvenile crime is down in Iowa and officials are crediting research and justice system alternatives. Earlier this week, the Iowa Department of Human Rights’ Division of Criminal and Juvenile Justice Planning released a report, showing a more than 20 percent decrease in juvenile arrests between 2007 and 2010. Juveniles also made up a decreasing percentage of the state’s total arrests during those years.
  • The Unfair Criminalization of Gay and Transgender Youth (Center for American Progress)
    Though gay and transgender youth represent just 5 percent to 7 percent of the nation’s overall youth population, they compose 13 to 15 percent of those currently in the juvenile justice system. These high rates of involvement in the juvenile justice system are a result of gay and transgender youth abandonment by their families and communities, and victimization in their schools—sad realities that place this group of young people at a heightened risk of entering the school-to-prison pipeline.

Reclaiming Futures in Snohomish County, Washington: Using art to rehabilitate teens

This past fall, Washington state's Snohomish County juvenile court system ran a pilot project called Promising Artists in Recovery (PAIR), modeled after Reclaiming Futures. The program connected teens in the county's juvenile justice system with local artists who shared their craft and mentored the youth.
The Herald has a terrific feature story on PAIR, Reclaiming Futures and the teens and mentors who participated. Check out this video on the pilot:


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:

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.

School-to-Prison Pipeline: Chicago Youth Calling for a Dollars and Sense Policy

[The following post originally appeared July 14, 2011, on the Connected by 25 blog, published by the Youth Transition Funders Group. It's an unusual example of students advocating against harsh discipline policies that feed the juvenile justice system. - Ed.]
juvenile-justice-reform_VOYCE-Youth-leadersYoung people are gathering on the steps of Chicago Public Schools today, along with parents and teachers, calling for an overhaul of the district school discipline policy. The rally is organized around the release of a new report, Failed Policies, Broken Futures: The True Cost of Zero Tolerance, produced by Voices of Youth in Chicago Education (VOYCE)
VOYCE, a youth organizing collaborative, has approached school discipline through a cost-effectiveness analysis, using the $700 million budget shortfall as a very powerful hook. It's so powerful it has brought the Chicago Teacher Union to the table with CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey speaking at the rally. Too often teachers are in support of pushing students out of the classroom. Yet the national struggle to come to terms with diminished resources is changing the dynamics.

The report offers a compelling argument that that the current practices are not financially or educationally effective:

Webinar: Reclaiming Gang-Involved Youth

juvenile-justice-system_three-youthWhen this presentation was given at the Reclaiming Futures Leadership Institute in May 2011, it received some of the highest praise our workshops have ever gotten. Here's a sample:

"One of the absolute best workshops I have attended in 36 years of youth work."

"Very knowledgeable, coupled with true passion for the work!"

"Great presentation!"

"Good speaker.  Answered questions well.  Good use of video and other ways to engage the group throughout the presentation."

"Great session.  Strong ideas."


"Amazing presenter and presentation.  Powerful."

So we're offering it now as a webinar on July 19, 2011 at 11am PDT / 2pm EDT.  Hurry up and register, though: we only have 125 slots!
Read on for more info >>

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.

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. 

Is the Juvenile Justice System "Improving Lives or Devastating Them?" and More: a Roundup

  • juvenile-justice-system_old-TVIs the Juvenile Justice System "Improving Lives or Devastating Them?" U.S. Attorney General Asks
    Attorney General Eric Holder wants to see the juvenile justice system shift from prosecution and punishment to prevention and intervention, as he made clear in a March 7th speech to the National Association of Counties Legislative Conference. Among other things, he pointed to the evidence showing that "scared straight programs" are ineffective, and the high rate of sexual victimization of detained youth. 
  • States Try Fewer Youth in Adult Court  
    Only a few states -- New York and North Carolina among them -- continue to treat 16-year-olds as adults when it comes to the justice system. Money's an issue, because it's more expensive to try them in the juvenile justice system. However, a new analysis from the Vera Institute of Justice finds that the fiscal benefits outweigh the costs.
  • States Back Away From Punitive Drug Laws
    The high cost of imprisoning low-level drug offenders is adding momentum to efforts to reform punitive drug laws that incarcerate people without addressing their underlying treatment problem.

OJJDP Funding: Mentoring for Juveniles Leaving Secure Confinement

juvenile-justice-system_funding-smartiesThe Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) is offering grants to support mentoring for youth  leaving secure facilities. One-time awards of up to $625,000 will be made for a project period of up to three years. (Hat tip to Mark Fulop.) 
From the call for proposals: "The purpose of this initiative is to support the successful and safe transition of juvenile offenders from correctional facilities to their communities. To this end, OJJDP will provide funding to develop, implement, and expand mentoring programs and transitional services. OJJDP expects successful applicants to integrate best practices and proven principles into mentoring service models, develop strategies to recruit and maintain mentors, and assess and develop services to respond to the needs of youth offenders reentering their communities. Local community collaboratives should lead such programs, design them to address local needs, and use local resources. If local resources are not available, the program should obtain resources outside of the community through partnerships and other collaborative efforts.
Application deadline: May 2, 2011. 
[UPDATE March 11, 2011:  Got questions?  Check the FAQ.]

National Mentoring Month and More - a Roundup

positive-youth-development_old-TV-that-says-newsJanuary is National Mentoring Month

Adolescent Substance Abuse Treatment: a Groundbreaking Dialog with Young People

adolescent-substance-abuse-treatment_recovery-meeting-slidesOn Monday, December 13, 2010, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), along with many other partners, sponsored 38 young people from around the country to be part of “The Young People’s Networking Dialogue on Recovery (YPNDR).” All of the young recovery advocates volunteered their time to travel to Baltimore and have a very important dialogue.
I have been around many thousands of young people in recovery in various places over the past 9 years, but never before did they have a platform like this. At times during that meeting in Baltimore, I couldn’t help but step back and realize that this conversation was different … something special was going on.
Quite literally there was a million-dollar question (perhaps a billion-dollar question) on the table: What is needed to help more young people enter and sustain long-term recovery?

Webinar: Adolescent Recovery Networks

Want to Help Teens in the Justice System Recover from Addiction?

Join William White of Chestnut Health Systems Lighthouse Institute for a free webinar sponsored by Reclaiming Futures on "Adolescent Recovery Networks." Mr. White will present on recovery movements and recovery network models, and discuss ways that adolescent substance abuse treatment systems can develop strong recovery systems.
To participate, log on Wednesday, May 19, 2010 at 10:30 am PST / 1:30 pm EST. (Follow the link above to register.) PLEASE NOTE: The presentation will run 90 minutes, and up to an hour will be provided for questions, so make sure you block out enough time!

UPDATE: You can listen to a recording of "Adolescent Recovery Networks" or download the presentation slides here.
RELATED Post: Be sure to check out our handy reference list of evidence-based models for treating adolescent substance abuse.