Blog: Youth Engagement

Mr. Aalund’s Opus: A Second Chance

[The following post, on the rewards and challenges of teaching teens in recovery from alcohol and drug abuse, is reposted with permission of the author, Scott Aalund, and its original publisher, Phoenix House. Mr. Aalund is pictured below, in the classroom at Phoenix Academy (click on the photo for a larger image). --Ed.]

adolescent-substance-abuse-recovery_Mr.-Aalund-in-the-classroom-at-Phoenix-HouseOn my first visit to Phoenix Academy twelve years ago, I remember the school’s secretary laughing after I asked what kind of private school it was. I wasn’t familiar with the program and, with its pleasant entrance and unusually peaceful atmosphere, it didn’t look or sound anything like the large public schools where I’d taught in the past.
We started playing a guessing game, until she finally explained that the school served students who were recovering from drug and alcohol addiction. It wasn’t a private school, she told me, but they were fully accredited and the class sizes were small—a maximum 17-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio. Wow, I thought, this would be a challenge.

Positive Youth Justice Report and the CJJ Youth Manual

Positive Youth Justice Report

juvenile-justice-reform_Positive-youth-justice-report-coverAccording to a new report that my organization, the Coalition for Juvenile Justice (CJJ), just published, the future for youth involved with the justice system could be dramatically improved by applying the principles of positive youth development (PYD) practice to the juvenile justice system and its services.
The report -- Positive Youth Justice: Framing Justice Interventions Using the Concepts of Positive Youth Development, written by Jeffrey A. Butts, Gordon Bazemore and Aundra Saa Meroe -- explores the tremendous potential of helping court-involved youth develop their pro-social strengths and attributes, and increase their abilities to contribute to healthy, safe family and community life.

Writing from Kids in the Juvenile Justice System: In My Blood to Be a Drunk

[The following post is reprinted with permission from the blog at the Pongo Teen Writing website. The author has recently posted "Poetry as Treatment for Youth in the Juvenile Justice System" and "I Feel Like Weights Have Been Lifted" on this blog. Photo by Olivander. -Ed.]
juvenile-justice-system-youth-writing_colored-drinksAt 10 years old, the girl was always home alone while her parents were out doing drugs. I asked if she was scared at the time. No, not for herself. She was worried about her parents. Now, at age 13 and in juvenile detention, the girl has been smoking bud and doing things she isn’t supposed to do. She wants her parents to worry about her for a change. She writes about her parents: “They’re the only people who will be there.” But her poem is titled “When Nobody Was There.”

Pongo’s teen authors will often write about drug and alcohol abuse. They give multiple and contradictory reasons for their involvement. For me, as a poet working with the youth, one of the toughest knots to unravel is the role of family. Substance abuse often seems like a response to emptiness at home and also a confirmation of family connection, however flawed. Teens seem to be filling an emotional void with drugs and alcohol, but also emulating someone they love. And parents sometimes give their children drugs and alcohol, playing an active role in both distancing and dependence. Family is very important.

Here are three teen poems from this year’s Pongo project in juvenile detention, that describe substance abuse in the context of family.

2010 Mentoring Grants from OJJDP

juvenile-justice-system-youth-mentoring_youth-activityHave a youth mentoring program that's been up and running for at least a year?
You might consider applying for new mentoring grants from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP). To "reduce juvenile delinquency, drug abuse, truancy, and other problem and high-risk behaviors," OJJDP wants to

enhance the capacity and effectiveness of established mentoring programs by: (1) augmenting the involvement of and services for the mentoring participants' parents; (2) expanding structured activities and opportunities for the mentors and mentoring participant(s); and (3) increasing the availability of ongoing mentor training and support.

Programs can use the grant to accomplish one or more of those three things.  Awards will fall between $200,000 and $500,000 for 18 to 36 months. Application deadline is April 14, 2010.
Photo by Alaska Youth for Environmental Action.

My Natural Helper

[The author is a young person (pictured below) who benefited from the Reclaiming Futures initiative at our site in Montgomery County, Ohio. The site has recruited over 190 "natural helpers" from the community for teens in the juvenile justice system. - Ed.]
juvenile-justice-system-natural-helpers_LakieshaBeing in the natural helper program saved my life! I never imagined that when I was placed on probation that I would be linked to people who truly cared about me, let alone my future. 
My first probation officer suggested that I participate in the drug court program because I had a problem with smoking weed. I used to get high all of the time, and I started to mess up. You know like, getting in trouble with the police, getting into it with family, and skipping school. Headed for destruction, so to say. 
So when I got into the drug court program, they told me about a mentoring program called natural helpers. I had never had a mentor before, and honestly I didn’t know what to expect. Would this be another person to tell me what to do or how to do it? I decided to sign up, thinking, "What do I have to lose? If I don't like it, I'll just blow it off. Easy." Boy was I wrong. 

Roundup: Labeling Kids as Delinquent Increases Recidivism; Sports Improve Life Outcomes for Girls; How to Increase Collections from Insurance Companies, and More

Juvenile Justice Reform and Adolescent Substance Abuse Treatment News

I Feel Like Weights Have Been Lifted

[The following post is reprinted with permission from the Pongo Teen Writing website. The author published "Poetry as Treatment for Youth in the Juvenile Justice System" on this blog in December. -Ed.]
positive-youth-development-Pongo-writing_journal-with-penFor the past four years, Pongo has surveyed its writers. I want to share the latest results because of what they reveal about distressed teens – their enthusiasm for art and for change, and also their insight into their own lives and their appreciation for those who care. (And I want to share the latest results because I believe in the Pongo method, and I want you to try it! Please read our web site and get in touch.)

Let me explain right away that every teen who works with Pongo in a one-on-one session completes a survey, unless we run out of time. The survey-takers are not a self-selected group. Also, when we choose youth to participate in a one-on-one session we give priority to teens who have never written before and who may be having a difficult time that day. (About one-third of Pongo writers are pretty new to writing, about one-third write a lot.)

As you probably know, the teens currently participating in Pongo are either in juvenile detention or the state psychiatric hospital for children. Many have suffered greatly in their childhoods. They have good reason to be angry, withholding, and mistrustful.

Here are the results of surveys collected last year from 100 different individuals:

11 Things to Do with Teens in the Justice System

juvenile-justice-reform-positive-youth-development-11-activities-teens-jumpingLast week, I featured our top 10 stories on juvenile justice and adolescent substance abuse treatment and 8 great resources to improve adolescent substance abuse treatment.
This week, I'm highlighting posts from our first year to help you focus on creative ways to help teens in the justice system and in recovery learn skills that will help them live crime-free and drug-free lives.
Here's 11 things you can do with teens in your justice system:

Juvenile Justice Reform: Fixing the Information Mismatch

[This topic of this column is so critical to reform of the juvenile justice system, we've reprinted it in its entirety from the Criminal Justice blog of with their kind permission. It originally appeared under the title, "Fixing the Information Mismatch in Juvenile Justice." --Ed.]
In 2007. I met a soft-spoken young man whom we will call “Ivan.” Almost everyday, he wore a large sweatshirt with cats and dogs on it. When I asked him if he liked animals, his face lit up and he told me that his dream was to become a veterinarian. He really loved taking care of animals, he said, and he was especially good with dogs. 
I knew Ivan because he was in the Bronx Family Court on a delinquency proceeding for allegedly throwing water on his teacher’s laptop at school. Ivan said it was an accident, although his teacher didn’t think so.
While awaiting a finding in his case, Ivan was successfully attending Saturday community service events, he was going to his counseling appointments, and he was present at school when his probation officer checked on him. Unfortunately, Ivan’s mom didn’t quite have her act together, so Ivan would find himself breaking up fights between her and her boyfriend, or taking care of her when she was too high to do it herself. Eventually, the court recognized that Ivan’s mom was not in a position to mother him as required by law. Without other family members or friends to take him in, Ivan was put into a juvenile jail to await the finding in his case.

Roundup: Half of all U.S. Kids are Assaulted Each Year; Pitting Pre-Schoolers Against Teens in Budget Fights Is Bad Policy; and More

Teens in Your Juvenile Justice System Have Nothing to Do? They Can Help

juvenile-justice-system-adolescent-substance-abuse-resources-community-youth-mapping-logoOne of the key parts of the Reclaiming Futures model is "beyond treatment":  connecting kids in the juvenile justice system with a network of positive adults, services, and activities that will sustain them when they leave probation, incarceration, or treatment.
No problem, right? Well, as anyone who's ever wrestled with this problem knows, it's a huge problem. It can be hard for probation officers and treatment counselors to keep up with what's available. Then, too, there's the always-tricky issue of what services or activies are appropriate for which kids. 
So here's an idea from Community YouthMapping (CYM): ask the kids to help you map the services; together, you can canvass neighborhoods in search of places to go and things to do. It's a great opportunity to harness their energy, given them skills, and model pro-social behavior, and you'll often find resources you wouldn't find otherwise. 

Adolescent Substance Abuse: CTYF and What's Working for Young People in Recovery

adolescent-substance-abuse-recovery-CTYF-logoMy name's Greg Williams. I'm a young person who's been in long-term recovery since age 17 from alcohol and other drugs. Whenever I tell my story, I always say, “I was whoever I thought my friends wanted me to be.” Throughout my teenage years, my human need for belonging drove me to conform to peer groups around me.

Helping Teens in the Justice System: Tapping the Community

The juvenile justice field has been one of the last to accept a strength-based or asset-based community development approach to working with young people and to working with communities to reduce juvenile crime.
However, based on pioneering work on a strength-based bill of rights for juvenile offenders developed by Laura Nissen, Executive Director of Reclaiming Futures and many other asset-based practitioners, the idea of a community development approach to juvenile justice has been slowly taking hold.  

Changing Lives Through Literature in Bristol County, Part 2

This is part 2 of my interview with Estella Rebeiro, senior juvenile probation officer at the Reclaiming Futures site in Bristol County, MA, about a local implementation of the Changing Lives Through Literature program. (See part 1 of her interview.)
Why do you think the program works?
The use of literature aids in the development of self-esteem, mindfulness and emotional well-being.  The topics of discussion promote core values, compassion, hope, respect, integrity and responsibility for self and community.

Restorative Justice Reduces School Violence and Suspensions

restorative-justice-in-schools-teens-yellingHow do you reduce school violence?
It's easy: you get serious about restorative justice.
At least that's the conclusion I draw from an excellent report, "Improving School Climate: Findings from Schools Implementing Restorative Justice."  The report, from the International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP), provides intriguing data from six U.S. schools and four Canadian and British schools showing significant drops in school suspensions and "behavioral incidents."  
*Image by spunkinator from Flickr (CC License).