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What is Re-entry and Aftercare for Youth?

What do you think should happen when a kid is incarcerated? If you’re like most Americans, you think rehabilitation should be a top priority for youth correctional facilities, according to a recent poll conducted by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

But are kids actually getting what they need in facilities to ensure they don’t commit new crimes when they return home? Evidently not:

  • Two-thirds of these youth don’t return to school after their release from secure custody.
  • Even though parents and families are the most important factor in determining youth success in reintegrating into the community, only one in three families report being included in any release plans made for their children by juvenile facilities.
  • Youth with mental health and substance abuse issues often get substandard care in facilities. No matter what kind of care they get though, they usually cannot smoothly transition to care in the community, as those eligible for Medicaid or other health insurance are often released without being enrolled, or because their Medicaid coverage was terminated when they were first confined, and re-enrollment takes 90 days or more.
  • It’s not uncommon for as many as 75 percent of youth returning home from confinement to be rearrested within three years, according to the Center of State Governments.

That’s why re-entry and aftercare matter for youth. Ideally, planning for re-entry is begun the moment youth enter the system, to ensure they are able to smoothly transition back home, and services and supervision are in place to help support them reintegrate safely and successfully.

In practice, it’s a rare youth who receives the kind of planning, cross-agency coordination and support they need to be successful.

For this reason, the Juvenile Justice Resource Hub has published a new section devoted to youth re-entry and aftercare, drafted and curated by the National Juvenile Justice Network, to aid practitioners and policymakers in improving our response to youth in trouble with the law.

While not exhaustive, the section is meant to provide a useful guide to the key issues that cover the challenges youth face and the critical elements of high-quality re-entry and aftercare; trends at the state level supporting the use and improvement of re-entry and aftercare; an abbreviated set of specific resources you can download now, and a list of experts in the field. There’s even a short glossary.

If you browse the site, you’ll learn that although experts have created a number of comprehensive models to guide practitioners in creating effective re-entry and aftercare services for youth, evaluation results to date have been equivocal. This is most likely because the models are tough to fully implement and fund, given the complexity of youth needs and the level of coordination required to adequately meet their needs.

Nevertheless, there’s a lot we’ve learned that we could use to make changes right now that would help kids re-enter their communities. A few examples:

  • Ensure youth complete high schoolEducation in youth facilities is often substandard, and youth in adult facilities may get none at all. Last December, the U.S. departments of Education and Justice released joint guidelines for states on correctional education for youth, to encourage improvement. Two reforms that would make a difference: (1) requiring that youth educational records be transferred between schools within seven days of request; and (2) rolling back laws that create obstacles for youth to re-enroll when they return to their home community. This would only be a start — but it would be a good one.
  • Prepare youth for the job market Many youth leaving facilities are older teens who will soon be looking for jobs. Giving youth high-quality, industry-aligned technical training while locked up and the opportunity to practice their skills before they leave would help prepare them for work — especially if training includes assistance with the “soft skills” they need to succeed in interviews and with co-workers. Of course, once they are released, internships, apprenticeships and subsidized employment opportunities can help them catch up to their peers and ready them for the working world. Additional supports in the arenas of housing, child care and mental health and substance use treatment would also be useful.
  • Provide mental health and substance abuse treatment Research has shown that 64 percent of youth in custody struggle with mental health and substance abuse issues, so providing good, continuous care is essential. However, as I noted above, the quality of care they receive inside facilities is often inadequate or even nonexistent. Because gaps in care can contribute to new offenses, re-entry planning should ensure that youth move seamlessly from facility to care in the community. To this end, removing barriers to health insurance and Medicaid coverage is essential.
  • Protecting the confidentiality of juvenile records Youth leaving custody can be denied housing or jobs on the basis of their juvenile records, which are not adequately protected in many states. Allowing youth to have their record sealed or expunged is also a key step in helping them reintegrate successfully.

Kids in trouble with the law have deep capacity to learn and change. Doing a better job of re-entry and aftercare would go a long way toward helping them do just that — and make our communities safer.

Visit the Re-entry section on the Juvenile Justice Resource Hub.


Benjamin Chambers is Communications Director at the National Juvenile Justice Network.

The Skinny on Evidence-Based Practices

Evidence-based Practices at the Juvenile Justice Resource HubSocial scientist Robert Martinson famously concluded in 1974 that “nothing works” to change the behavior of people encountering the justice system. Fortunately, we’ve come a long way since then.

Policymakers and system stakeholders now have an ever-growing set of policies, practices and programs that help youth in trouble with the law change their behavior and make communities safer. And far-sighted policymakers have invested heavily in evidence-based practices in a number of states. Examples include Connecticut and Nebraska (where advocates like the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance and Voices for Children in Nebraska, along with their allies, played a role in the adoption of evidence-based practices). That sort of success is something to celebrate.

But there’s a lot more to do to advance the spread of evidence-based practices. For this reason, next week, the Juvenile Justice Resource Hub will publish a new section devoted to evidence-based practices, drafted and curated by the National Juvenile Justice Network.

While not exhaustive, the section is meant to provide a useful guide to the key issues tied to defining and using evidence-based practices; trends at the state level supporting the use and improvement of evidence-based practices; an abbreviated set of specific resources you can download now; and a list of experts in the field. There’s even a short glossary.

Curious about what criteria are used to declare a program or practice “evidence-based”? Wonder how to determine what intervention to use with youth? Want information on how jurisdictions are adapting evidence-based treatment models to work with Latino youth? It will all be there on the Resource Hub.

But I’d like to take this opportunity to emphasize three things that don’t get talked about — or not enough, anyway — when we talk about evidence-based practices:

  1. Implementing an evidence-based program is hard. Everyone underestimates how hard. It’s a long process that requires thought, collaboration and a tenacious willingness to refine what you’re doing. Fortunately, the Mental Health and Juvenile Justice Collaborative for Change, a Models for Change partner, has an excellent implementation guide — which we link to on the Hub — to help you do it right.
  2. There’s more work to do. Because we can now point to a list of programs that are evidence-based, it’s tempting to think that we have the answers we need — it’s just a matter of applying what we know. But we’re not done. More research is needed.After all, even the most thoroughly-researched interventions aren’t successful for every youth (whether we’re talking about lowering recidivism or attaining clinical goals), so there’s a need to develop alternatives. And we’re still learning how to adapt evidence-based practices for racial and ethnic communities — one approach, for example, is the Cultural Enhancement Model.
  3. Of course, the continuing popularity of programs like “Scared Straight” that actually make youth more likely to commit new crimes suggests that we have a ways to go in educating the general public about what really works to change behavior. Which leads me to my next point …
  1. Evidence-based practices alone aren’t enough to reform the juvenile justice system. Simply adopting and implementing evidence-based practices on a widespread basis is an enormous task. But if all we do to reform the juvenile justice system is have each jurisdiction adopt a set of fully-researched, well-implemented evidence-based practices, we will have failed our youth and our communities. We will still incarcerate too many children who don’t belong there, and keep extending their probation indefinitely while they “complete” their treatment. In too many communities already, youth have to commit a crime to get access to evidence-based care. As a result, we are unintentionally ensuring that more youth are more deeply involved in a justice system that research has shown is generally harmful to them and makes some of them more likely to commit new crimes. Instead, we need to change our values and assumptions about youth and the justice system.
  2. This is why the new section on the Resource Hub talks not only about the kinds of programs we usually think of as evidence-based, it also discusses promising practices and policies. For example, it describes ways that communities are changing policy to shut down the school-to-prison pipeline and adopting policies that promote deincarceration. It even talks about “positive youth justice,” a term coined by Jeffrey A. Butts, Gordon Bazemore and Aundra Saa Meroe to describe a juvenile justice system that’s based on using what we know about adolescent development to build youth’s assets, rather than merely fixing their deficits.
  3. That idea is not yet evidence-based — but for the sake of the youth in the justice system, their families and the safety of our communities, let’s hope it’s a glimpse of the future.

Benjamin Chambers is Communications Director at the National Juvenile Justice Network.

Three Strategies for Changing Juvenile Justice

A recent report from the National Juvenile Justice Network (NJJN), titled, "Bringing Youth Home: A National Movement to Increase Public Safety, Rehabilitate Youth and Save Money," documented the extraordinary number of states and jurisdictions (at least 24) that are closing or downsizing their youth correctional facilities, due to budget cuts, legislation, lawsuits, and pressure from reformers. (Download the report for tips on ways to downsize wisely.)

This is a good thing, because it means taxpayers can save money or avoid the high cost of incarceration, and reallocate those monies to community-based programs that are more effective at helping young people turn their lives around.

Right on the heels of the NJJN report comes a new report from Jeffrey A. Butts and Douglas N. Evans from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice's Research and Evaluation Center in New York, titled, Resolution, Reinvestment, and Realignment: Three Strategies for Changing Juvenile Justice. In it, they ask:

  • Do these reforms represent a permanent shift in policy and practice, or are they merely a temporary reaction to tight budgets and low rates of violent crime?
  • Will policymakers maintain the reforms if and when crime rises and budgets rebound?

To answer those questions, they reviewed -- I'm quoting from the press release -- "the most prominent juvenile correctional reform models from the past 40 years, and they conclude that some models of reform are likely to be more sustainable than others."

Here's the three reform models they identified (I'm quoting again):

    1. Resolution Models: Reforms are accomplished and maintained with managerial action and state leadership. Examples: The “Missouri Model” and statewide reforms in Massachusetts and Utah during the 1970s and 1980s.
    2. Reinvestment Models: Reforms are accomplished and maintained  using financial incentives to reduce the demand of local jurisdictions for state-operated confinement institutions. Examples: RECLAIM Ohio, Redeploy Illinois, and recent reforms in Texas.
    3. Realignment Models: Reforms are achieved and sustained by reorganizing juvenile justice systems, reducing or eliminating state-level confinement and replacing it with local services and placement. Examples: Wayne County, Michigan and the California realignment policy enacted with Senate Bill 81 in 2007.

Their conclusions?

  • The "'realignment' approach now being implemented in California and the realignment reforms established in Wayne County (Detroit), Michigan since 2000" is most likely to be sustainable over time.
  • Moreover, reforms based on financial incentives (costs avoided by closing down costly facilities) are probably the most easily reversed.

Download Resolution, Reinvestment, and Realignment: Three Strategies for Changing Juvenile Justice.

 

The above story is reprinted with permission from Reclaiming Futures, a national initiative working to improve alcohol and drug treatment outcomes for youth in the juvenile justice system.

 

Apply Now for Reclaiming Futures Judicial Training

Making change in the juvenile justice system to help teens with drug and alcohol problems requires a strong community leader who can convene diverse players, some of whom are not used to working together. Judges are uniquely placed to take on this role.
That's why we're offering two trainings for juvenile court judges new to the Reclaiming Futures model, titled, "Leading Change in the Juvenile Justice System for Teens with Drug and Alcohol Problems." (see below for details).

Leading Change
Reclaiming Futures helps young people in trouble with drugs, alcohol, and crime. Our six-step model has been implemented in 29 communities around the country. In each community, judges provide the necessary leadership to bring together law enforcement, courts, probation, detention facilities, treatment providers, families, schools, and the community to work jointly to help these teens.

A Course Created by Judges, for Judges
If you’re a juvenile court judge, you won’t want to miss this unique opportunity to learn about our collaborative change model.
In this one-day interactive training designed and taught by Reclaiming Futures judges, you'll learn about shared leadership, the role of the judge in leading change, and how to sustain change over the long-term.
Other benefits:
  • Learn skills helpful for running any problem-solving court, whether or not your community adopts the Reclaiming Futures model.
  • Link up with local colleagues, and with judges involved in Reclaiming Futures’ 17-state judicial network.
  • Get an introduction to the Reclaiming Futures model and see if it’s right for your community.
When & Where
The training will be held twice this fall.
  • September 19, 2011 - Washington, DC.
  • October 6, 2011 - Seattle, WA
How Much?
Reclaiming Futures will cover:
  • the cost of the training;
  • airfare or mileage, as appropriate;
  • a hotel room the night before the training;
  • a per diem consistent with federal reimbursement guidelines; and
  • $450/day for two days, paid to your court to cover the cost of pro tem coverage for your docket.

These trainings are supported through technical assistance from SAMHSA.

Apply Now
To apply, go here. Hurry, though -- space is limited! If you have other quetions, please contact L.J. Hernandez at ljh@pdx.edu.

>>Or, learn more about the training here.

Benjamin Chambers On the School-to-Prison Pipeline

How do you reduce the number of kids going into the juvenile justice system? Overhaul school disciplinary policies.

Here's a quick overview of research on the problem, a great video that puts a human face on the issue in Connecticut, and some things you can do.

Just yesterday, the Council of State Governments Justice Center released Breaking Schools’ Rules: A Statewide Study of How School Discipline Relates to Students’ Success and Juvenile Justice Involvement. The report is based on a groundbreaking study of nearly 1 million secondary school students in Texas. (Researchers were able to control for over 80 different variables because they had individual-level records from schools and juvenile court for every single youth in the study.)

Though it's methodologically very careful in its conclusions, it does show that:

  • nearly 60 percent of all students in the study were suspended or expelled between 7th and 12th grades;
  • African American students and children with "particular educational disabilities" were disproportionately affected -- especially for infractions where administrators had discretion over what sanctions to apply; and
  • students who were suspended or expelled were more likely to end up in the juvenile justice system the following year.

But there's grounds for hope, because researchers also found that:

  • suspension and expulsion rates varied widely beween schools, even among schools that were similar in terms of their students' racial compositon or economic status.

This suggests that schools can handle behavior problems differently, and with fewer negative outcomes on the youth.

This isn't to say that teachers and school administrators should never suspend or expel youth. However, in the past 30 years, the rate at which students are suspended has nearly doubled in the last 30 years, and removing students from the classroom doesn't actually make classrooms safer or help other students perform better. (My source is Suspended Education: Urban Middle Schools in Crisis, a report released last year by the Southern Poverty Law Center reviewing 30 years of data on the use of suspensions in middle schools. For an overview, see my post, School-to-Prison Pipeline: Middle School Suspensions Unfair and Ineffective.)

Many states are beginning to address the problem. For instance, check out this great video from Connecticut, "Education vs. Incarceration the Real Cost of Failing Our Kids." Follow the link to see the full, hour-long program. (Hat tip to the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance). The first segment is below:

What can you do in your community to address the overuse of school discipline and the school-to-prison pipeline?

1. Download Mapping and Analyzing the Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Track: An Action Kit for Understanding How Harsh School Discipline Policies and Practices Are Impacting Your CommunityAction Kit (Hat tip to the National Juvenile Justice Network.)

2. Work with your local juvenile court. Judge Steven Teske of Clayton County, Ga., and Judge Brian Huff of Jefferson County, Ala., have worked with local schools and other partners to dramatically reduce unnecessary referrals to juvenile court from schools. Follow the link to check out their PowerPoint, given at a Coalition for Juvenile Justice conference in 2010. Or, you can see their fantastic presentation on reducing school arrests at a forum hosted by the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance. (Their presentation is 90 minutes long, but I assure you, they are worth watching.)

3. Implement restorative justice in your local schools, which recent research has shown to lower suspension and expulsion rates.

4. Tap the energy of the students themselves. Chicago public school students have organized to advocate for more reasonable discipline policies -- and they're being heard.

What have I missed? Any great strategies or ideas to share? Leave a comment!

The above story is reprinted with permission from Reclaiming Futures, a national initiative working to improve alcohol and drug treatment outcomes for youth in the juvenile justice system.

Benjamin Chambers Interviews Gordon Bazemore: How to Tell if Your Community is Really Doing Restorative Justice

What's one of the biggest drivers pushing kids into the juvenile justice system these days? Schools.

Schools often suspend or expel youth who misbehave, ostensibly to maintain order. Unfortunately, an analysis of 30 years of data on middle school expulsions and suspensions issued last year by the Southern Poverty Law Center found that the sanctions were unfair and ineffective.

So what can be done? For one thing, schools can partner with juvenile courts toreduce the number of unnecessary referrals to juvenile court (follow the link for a great 2010 presentation for the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance given by Judges Steven Teske and Brian Huff on how they accomplished this in their jurisdictions).

But restorative justice offers another useful solution. Recent research done on a few schools in the U.S., Britain, and Canada suggests that adopting restorative justice techniques in the classroom can reduce suspensions and expulsions significantly.

Restorative justice is an approach that connects the victim of a crime with the person who committed it in a structured meeting with others present. There's various ways of setting this up, but the process has the advantage of being more personal than the formal justice system, and more comprehensible. While it's also effective with adults, it seems tailor-made for juvenile justice settings, because the brains of adolescents are still developing and youth are often highly capable of changing their behavior.

But as you can imagine, it takes skill and dedication to run a successful restorative justice program, so I asked Dr. Gordon Bazemore, who's studied and implemented numerous restorative justice programs, what the hallmarks of a good restorative justice program were. (Bazemore is professor and director of the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, and director of the Community Justice Institute, at Florida Atlantic University.)

Here's his reply:


 

The above story is reprinted with permission from Reclaiming Futures, a national initiative working to improve alcohol and drug treatment outcomes for youth in the juvenile justice system.

Benjamin Chambers On Why Treating Teens for Substance Abuse Issues Matters

Does it really matter if we screen and assess teens for alcohol and drug problems?  Most adults, after all, started experimenting with alcohol or other drugs before they turned 21 -- and if they didn't, they almost certainly knew a lot of kids who did. And most of them (though not all) survived into adulthood.

So what's the big deal if we turn a blind eye to identify teen drinking or drugging?  Federally-funded research shows why it's a big deal from a public health standpoint:

(Click the image for a larger view.) It's taken from an excellent presentation, "Characteristics, Needs and Strengths of Substance Using Youth by Level of Involvement in the Juvenile Justice System," given by Dr. Michael Dennis, Senior Research Psychologist at Chestnut Health Systems, at the Reclaiming Futures Leadership Institute held in Miami last month. I'll be posting more slides from his presentation soon - stay tuned!

Here's Dr. Dennis' notes on the slide (emphasis added):

This figure shows ... the prevalence of these past year substance use and problems in the height of the graph by age along the bottom.

1- Substance use disorders typically [surface] during adolescence and young adulthood. In fact, 90 percent of all adults with dependence started using under the age of 18, half under the age of 15. Moreover, 90 percent met criteria for abuse or dependence by age 20 – thus it is primarily an adolescent onset disorder.

2- After several decades, the rates of abuse and dependence do decrease as people go into remission, incarceration or die. Epidemiological studies of people with lifetime substance dependence suggest that 58 percent eventually enter sustained recovery (i.e., no symptoms for the past year) -- a rate that is considerably better than the 39 percent average rate of recovery across psychiatric disorders (Kessler, 1994; see also Dawson, 1996; Robins & Regier, 1991).

3 – Notice how the rates of no use go up with age.

One caveat: remember that most youth in the juvenile justice system (at intake, detention, or in secure placement)don't have an alcohol and drug disorder -- though many do.  For more information, check out this post: How Prevalent are Substance Abuse and Mental Health Issues in Juvenile Justice? The Answer May Surprise You.

The above story is reprinted with permission from Reclaiming Futures, a national initiative working to improve alcohol and drug treatment outcomes for youth in the juvenile justice system.

 

Benjamin Chambers Interviews Karen Pittman on Why Helping Teens Beat the Odds is Not Enough

Isn't it great when you see a young person beat the odds? You know what I mean -- you'll read a story or see a video about a teen who struggled with drugs, alcohol, and crime, and somehow overcame all of that (and probably more) ... and it just makes you feel fantastic, doesn't it?

Well, it should. But Karen Pittman, CEO and Founder of the Forum for Youth Investment, has an even more inspiring idea, which she shared in an interview at the Reclaiming Futures Leadership Institute held in Miami in May:

 

 

You can also see Karen's full presentation at the Reclaiming Futures Leadership Institute here.

The above story is reprinted with permission from Reclaiming Futures, a national initiative working to improve alcohol and drug treatment outcomes for youth in the juvenile justice system.

Benjamin Chambers Interviews Dr. Jeffrey Butts on Positive Youth Development

Positive youth development is a key part of Reclaiming Futures. But what the heck is "positive youth development?" According to juvenile justice researcher Dr. Jeffrey Butts, it blends what we know about adolescent development and what we know about effective services.

But don't take it from me -- here's a brief interview on the subject that I did with Dr. Butts at the Reclaiming Futures Leadership Institute held in Miami in May:

The above story is reprinted with permission from Reclaiming Futures, a national initiative working to improve alcohol and drug treatment outcomes for youth in the juvenile justice system.

Benjamin Chambers: Speaking in a Loud Voice – A Juvenile Probation Officer Makes Documentary about Sex Trafficking

Charles Taylor Gould, a former co-worker of mine, is a juvenile probation officer in Multnomah County, Ore., who's been hearing stories for 15 years from teenage girls in the juvenile justice system who've been sexually exploited or victimized by sex trafficking.

So what did he do? He did what anyone would do: he made a full-length documentary. And along the way, he interviewed people like U.S. Senator Ron Wyden and actress Daryl Hannah.

Your American Teen "follows three teens for approximately two years. All three girls suffered severe trauma as children and throughout their adolescence; all three had parents that were unable or unwilling to care for them." Gould and his fellow producers, Tyler Benjamin and Keith Murphy [the latter is also a juvenile probation officer and co-worker of Gould's], "interviewed survivors, detectives, organization executives, celebrities, lawyers, policy makers and many others in [a] quest to find out what is being done to prevent sexual exploitation of vulnerable girls" in the Northwest.

Charles Taylor Gould

Q: What inspired you to make this documentary?
Mainly, it was that you see kids in deep pain ... I've been doing my work 15 years now. I work with all populations at juvenile justice because I lead skill groups [educational, cognitive restructuring, etc.], which means I get kids from all units - a girl who was trafficked and in our system because of that, a gang member, sex offender -- any of them. I hear their stories and they're almost unbelievable.

As a juvenile court counselor, your voice can be loud -- but only so loud, and the only other way I knew how to yell to Joe Public to hear these stories was to do the other thing I love, and that's making films. It's the best way to get people to hear these stories.

Q: Does this affect boys as well as girls?
It's predominantly girls, yes. Make no mistake, there are boys out there who are sexually victimized. The thing that kills me about it is some of these kids are 4 and 5 years old when they get raped, beautiful kids, and they live in silence with this unbelievable pain. It happens to boys and girls, but mostly girls.

Q: Does your film address the issue of criminalizing prostitution when teens are victims of sex trafficking?
Yes. And about how drugs play a role in this. An amazing amount of young women and girls end up addicted to drugs and are exploited sexually because of that addiction. It happens all too often. In fact, you see a young woman talk about that in the film trailer.

These girls are treated like criminals. They're brought into detention facilities, they're sometimes tried, they  can have felonies that go with the prostitution charge.

There are more than 100 girls in Portland at any given time that are victims of sex trafficking by a pimp. And we have three beds [in the service system] dedicated to help these girls. That sounds horrible, but it's three more than we did have. So the movement is going in the right direction. People are starting to understand that these girls are victims and not criminals.

It's amazing to me that we have 100 girls in absolute crisis right now. Many need up to 9 months of treatment [which can be a combination of drug and mental health treatment, cognitive restructuring, and trauma-focused care] -- you do that math, that's a lot of money and beds. I don't know what the answer is. We've asked a lot of peole, and no one has one. The money's not there, but the problem continues.

Q: Based on the trailer, it looks like you're dealing with more than just sex trafficking. Can you say more about that?
I can't stand the term "sex trafficking." It doesn't describe what's really happening. That really comes from moving bodies from one place to another. This happens -- because Portland is on the I-5 [highway] corridor, the city is a great hub for sex trafficking. Pimps will trade girls from Seattle to Portland, Vegas, then back up to Tacoma [Washington] -- we're talking about selling children for sex. That's one end of the spectrum.

But there's more going on than that. Other facets of the documentary are about girls dealing with sexual exploitation every day, as young girls and teenagers. The sexual exploitation issue is that we as a society seem to be upping the ante as far as what is acceptable in how we sell things and what we perceive to be sexy. There's all these different things happening at once. The way they're connected -- from actual pimping to pressure to dress a certain way -- these girls are being exploited around their sexuality. It's all connected.

Q: How can the film help?
By getting the message out there, it can help young girls know they're not alone. One thing the three girls we followed in the film all have in common: they all suffered severe trauma and were left to deal with it by themselves,  because their parents were unable to help because of their own depression, or locked in drugs, or didn't care about their kids the way they should have.

The girls are still fighting their battles. Two are doing quite well, and one is still struggling. The reason they were so willing to do these interviews was that they wanted to help younger girls deal with similar situations. So I think the film can help younger girls know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and there are people to help.

Equally as important, the general public needs know that the issue exists, that the service systems are aware of it, and are fighting to do something about it, that there are people out there who are at least trying to help. The more people who are aware, who stand up, who don't buy into the garbage media tells us about sexuality and girls, the better off we'll be. This is a call-to-action film.

Q: What can people do?
First, I'd say, face your own issues. We're all guilty at some level - we have a huge issue with pornography in this country, but beyond that, we often buy into the idea that younger is sexier, or women believing that they have to look young and be ditzy to get love. The experts we interviewed in the film all say, "Dive in, face your own issues, but be honest."

Second, find out who's working on this issue locally. Join an activist group, like the Soroptimists.

Third, let your local government officials know this issue's important to you. Find champions and support them.

Fourth, work to educate kids in schools about this. We need to forget this idea that kids in middle school can't handle this subject, because if we're not teaching them ways to deal with their own sexuality, and how to draw lines in terms of sexual exploitation, they're going to learn it from their peers.

Q: What's next for the film?
It still needs to be edited, but its world premier will be in January 2012, at the next conference held by the Northwest Coalition Against Trafficking. Beyond that, we're working on our distribution plan. We'd like to cut a version for use in schools, and another for adults.

The above story is reprinted with permission from Reclaiming Futures, a national initiative working to improve alcohol and drug treatment outcomes for youth in the juvenile justice system.