Updated from a previously published version on Coalition for Juvenile Justice Blog January 2020:
I am proof of both failure and success.
The failure of parents to provide basic needs and safety. The failure of child services systems to provide sustainable solutions. The failure of courts to make decisions in the best interest of the youth, rather than financial contracts. The failure of teachers or principals to educate and provide social development, rather than call the cops to arrest. The failure of other youth to provide friendship and safety. The failure of other adults to provide assistance and support to a community.
And yet I am the proof of success. I have overcome crisis and poverty. I have self-awareness, respect and resiliency that allows me to achieve my goals. I have attained higher education achievements, sustained economic security through work and have given back to my community. I have become part of the solution to positively influence the next generation.
This is the story of Joseph in Dallas, Shari in Long Beach, Brittany in Los Angeles, and of a family in Florida trying to save trafficked youth. These stories, and many more, stem from individuals and systems recognizing their role in positively supporting the development of today’s youth.
It takes a community of people to shape the future of the next generation. Each of us play a part in shaping a youth’s development – the teacher, the coach, the neighbors, the school resource officer, the firefighter, and an array of those that manage community services and local governments.
These interactions can happen in a fleeting moment or can sustain for years. They can be positive or negative experiences, contributing either to our resiliency or our adverse experiences.
One part of the community is the juvenile justice system. The system seeks to focus on rehabilitative and trauma-informed approaches but changing systems in juvenile justice is hard. To truly impact youth on a mass scale, every person working within the system must participate, and have a deep understanding of the individual and the community’s needs.
As Dr. Jessica Herbert supported the Juvenile Services Division of L.A. County Probation Department as a FUSE fellow, three things are clear as juvenile justice agencies seek reform:
History often repeats itself- and this is also true for juvenile justice. For over thirty years, strategies for dealing with juvenile delinquency and behaviors have sought to balance the desires for rehabilitation, punishment, and treatment. Early rehabilitation efforts may have fallen short of success due to impatience in results, funding changes, or lack of professionals to support services.
Early punitive responses of incarceration, scared-straight or bootcamp-style programs equally proved ineffective, as individuals experienced long-term trauma, decreased educational and economic attainment, and ongoing contact with the criminal justice system. However, we can learn from this past and acknowledge the decades of research on adolescent development, antisocial behaviors and juvenile justice that provides agencies with promising practices and programs.
The types of juvenile justice programs focused on rehabilitation varies, although communities and youth have experienced the most benefits when programs have one or more of the following:
Today, models and strategies build on these programs with cross-systems and collaborative approaches. Efforts to change the patterns of youth delinquency and the wellness of a community is not the responsibility of a single agency. Sustainable reform includes a commitment from everyone and every system that interacts with youth and their families. Defining these roles to focus on core areas of expertise is key.
While these challenges still exist for some communities, progress has been made with robust record management platforms, advanced technologies, and data analytics that allow for in-depth evaluation and assessments. Communities would be amiss to implement programs and services without an understanding of the clients – their youth dealing with trauma, adverse childhood experiences, and other social and developmental challenges.
More importantly, the accessibility of services should match the needs. You can have the greatest after-school activities program– but if students cannot reach the building due to public transportation costs (or lack of transportation), having to walk through unsafe areas, or accessibility for those with disabilities – your program will not contribute to the positive development of youth in your community.
Data also informs the (un)intentional outcomes created by policies and procedures throughout our society. Social, economic, and political factors have contributed to extreme poverty, inaccessibility of job opportunities and low educational attainment. To change these patterns of inequity, all systems must accept the following realities:
This reality may not be comfortable – but if you are interested in changing systems to benefit those who are within the system, then it is imperative that you understand your clients and their challenges.
You need to understand that accessibility of public transportation in communities of color may not be readily available to access programs, jobs, or other opportunities. You need to understand that generational poverty impacts families that struggle with basic needs, such as food, shelter, and security. You need to understand that arresting youth only exacerbates the disadvantages they likely already face.
Develop your strategy, measure your work and be patient.
To implement sustainable, positive changes for our next generation, planning, monitoring, and patience is key. Strategic planning allows teams and collaborative partners to focus on the ultimate goals. This aligns resources, reminds individuals of their purposes, and allows for adjustments and problem-solving responses. The use of human-centered design techniques during planning sessions enables systems to keep processes aligned with the needs of their community and ensure a “customer service” mindset.
Furthermore, measuring and monitoring your progress toward goals keeps the team motivated and demonstrates achievements. While you may not be able to fix all of the problems, your resiliency throughout the processes will ensure you – or your agency – will progress forward with informed and more effective solutions.
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