Growing up, I didn’t have a lot of the same opportunities as other kids I knew. My parents struggled with mental health issues, and I was considered a “street kid.” I didn’t follow the rules, and no one expected a lot from me.
School was much of the same. With learning differences that made excelling academically virtually impossible, I focused on other things that I thought I was good at. This led me down a path of anger, crime and self-destruction. I was 14 years old, and I had given up on graduating high school.
I didn’t have direction in life until an amazing lady stepped forward. She was my best friend’s mom, and to this day I know her lovingly as “Mama Jackson.” With her help and the incentive of a warm meal, I started doing my homework and aiming for more in life. She was the first person to show me that I needed to hold myself accountable for the decisions I was making.
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This relationship paved the way for me to graduate high school. With Mama Jackson’s support, I moved on into higher education and finished graduate school. Since the day Mama Jackson took me off the streets and under her wing, I have never doubted the power of a positive adult relationship.
What gave me these opportunities started with a relationship and became a journey to my own resilience breakthrough. I wanted to help students like me overcome their challenging life circumstances. I wanted to be that positive adult relationship and teach others to do the same.
I founded a program called WhyTry that has been delivered to millions of students worldwide. I wrote the book “The Resilience Breakthrough” to help the adults in these kids’ lives enhance their own resilience. I have worked for more than 20 years to show students they can be resilient, no matter what.
I firmly believe that resilience is not just something you’re born with — it’s something that can be taught to both children and adults. This breakthrough idea comes after years of working directly with students, but current research backs me up.
Ann Masten, Ph.D., directs the Project Competence Studies of Risk and Resilience at the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Child Development. Her work essentially shows that we can assume every individual has the capacity for resilience if provided with “assets” (like evidence-based programs and tools) and environments (like positive relationships at school) that help enhance it. This means that even when we can’t take away a child’s problems, we can equip that child to deal with them effectively.
Other studies also show that when students score higher on resilience measures, they have improved social skills, higher grades, a greater love of learning and better decision-making skills.
If this is true, then how important is it for us as educators, counselors and teachers to provide these life-saving resilience skills through the use of social-emotional learning (SEL) programs. Don’t students deserve a fighting chance to face their struggles head on?
In education, life circumstances get in the way of learning. Children face many adversities that detract from the messages we are trying to send. Difficulties at home, bullying, poverty, depression, negative friendships, hunger, divorced parents, abuse, neglect and gang violence all supersede school and common core lessons.
How can a child learn math when the world around him or her is falling apart? Kids don’t feel connected to the message. They don’t see the relevance to real life.
We have a social justice issue on our hands. During the next 20 years, many students will get access to the evidence-based SEL and resilience tools I’m talking about, but many more will not. According to Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), only three states have developed standards for social emotional learning programs. The skills of resilience should be at everyone’s fingertips. No kid should have to make their way through life without them.
Resilience, as I have come to define it, is the ability to bounce back when you have every reason to shut down — but you fight on! What profound knowledge that we can give this gift to others.
By incorporating social emotional learning programs into our regular lessons — whether that’s in schools, correctional facilities or counseling sessions — we help students receive the tools they need to develop their own resilience. The access to social emotional learning programs is the responsibility of public education influencers — one that we need to focus on 100 percent.
We have an obligation to give students not just the answers to test questions. We must give them the answers to life and how to navigate it successfully. I argue that a kid who has the skills of resilience can have an advantage over a Harvard graduate. If that kid knows how to “flip the switch” and view adversity as a fuel source, the challenges of life won’t affect that kid as deeply as they would for someone who’s lacking resilience, however academically successful.
Children who have not developed important social and emotional skills will break when things get tough. Children who ultimately overcome are those who have been taught how to thrive under any circumstances.
And isn’t that our ultimate goal?
Christian Moore is a licensed clinical social worker and founder of the WhyTry Organization. He is the author of “The Resilience Breakthrough — 27 Tools for Turning Adversity Into Action.” Moore is also a national speaker on the topic of academic and corporate resilience.
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Oprah Winfrey’s book, “What I Know For Sure,” comes to my mind often when I look at what life has presented me with and what I face each day. I often ask myself what do I know for sure about girls involved in our juvenile justice system.
What I know is that our girls today are scared and often lack the guidance of a caring adult. It is my experience that many girls who come into contact with the juvenile justice system have experienced some form of trauma, mental health diagnosis, substance abuse and the absence of a caring adult in their lives.
Today’s generation has a culture of allowing social media to guide our youth’s footsteps. They lack the opportunity to interact with a caring neighbor, teacher, church youth group or simply a nonjudgmental person. We have forgotten how to love our young ladies, and they are left to turn to social media such as Instagram, Facebook and SnapChat for approval.
Our young ladies are exposing themselves in a dangerous and vulnerable way just for a “like,” “view” or “thumbs up.” We have allowed social media to provide temporary relief for their pain and feeling of abandonment way too often. We have fewer and fewer positive venues for our young ladies, so the desire to reach out to their peers for acceptance will repeat whether they get a positive or negative response.
Lead4Life, Inc. in Maryland provides community-based gender-specific programming for girls who are involved with the juvenile justice system or are at risk of being placed out of their homes due to negative behaviors displayed in the community, school and home. Time and time again these girls start the program not having a voice, feeling insufficient, assuming no one will understand what they are going through and, most disturbing, feeling completely alone. Throughout the program, we are able to see these girls blossom.
Lead4Life uses a strength-based, Positive Youth Development (PYD) and restorative practice approach. Besides providing a safe program structure, topics that address daily life practices and a special dinner, we provide the group with caring adults. Through the strength-based model, we make sure that we acknowledge every positive decision, action or response they make. It can be as simple as arriving to school on time, helping a stranger or providing support to a peer.
The PYD model empowers the young ladies to lead the groups. They come up with the topics, community service projects and build their own community support system with peers. The restorative practice approach allows for caring adults to process the decisions the young ladies are making and the impact it is having on them personally, their community and anyone who may have been victimized by their behaviors. It empowers the young ladies to accept responsibility for their decisions and make a commitment to change what they do not like through a supportive environment. Through the three approaches, the young ladies feel empowered, their voices are heard, sharing their story is safe and they are building positive relationships with peers and caring adults.
Many say we, the facilitators of the group, have poor boundaries because we embrace the girls with a hug and tell them they are loved. If we focused on boundaries, we could not get to the core of the issues these young ladies struggle with daily. The challenging issues they face have included sexual abuse, domestic violence, a mental health diagnosis they do not agree with, failing school and, more common than not, substance abuse.
There is an emphasis on each and every strength each girl possesses, brings to the group and to their community. We celebrate each girl and all the assets they contribute. We celebrate birthdays. Many of us take our birthday for granted and think negative thoughts about how we are getting old. Many of these young ladies do not get recognized for their birthday with a card or cake so we make sure that happens in our groups.
We also allow participants who successfully complete the program to apply to become a youth leader for the program. They gain positive workforce development skills, positive communication skills, a stipend and continued support system.
Lead4Life, Inc.’s purpose is to create a culture of love and support for our participants. We are given the gift of learning from these young ladies and their struggle to find a purpose. We are addressing the school-to-prison pipeline in a very nontraditional manner but one that is extremely effective and provides a meaningful experience for most participants.
Lead4Life has been providing gender-specific programming since 2009. Since its conception we have serviced approximately 54 to 62 young ladies per year. Of those participants (annual average), 78 percent are African American, 12 percent Hispanic, 6 percent other and 4 percent Caucasian. One year after participants’ successful completion of the program, Lead4Life tracks how many youth have recidivated in the criminal justice system. On average, 74 to 78 percent of youth did not recidivate (commit a new crime), which speaks volumes to the impact we are having.
Jennifer Gauthier is the CEO of Lead4Life, Inc., an emerging nonprofit serving youth and adults in the criminal justice system. She brings both life experience and professional training to her work of empowering young people and young adults in the criminal justice system.
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Legislation follows Center investigation of harsh punishments directed at even middle-schoolers
Virginia legislators are debating bills this week that would limit the role of school cops and prohibit charging K-12 students with “disorderly conduct” — a reaction to Center stories on unusually aggressive school policing there.
Among the reform proposals: a measure that would release school administrators from state code requirements that they report a range of incidents to police, including potential misdemeanors. Another bill under debate would strengthen the rights of students with disabilities if they’re charged with disorderly behavior and face prosecution in court.
Last April, the Center for Public Integrity published an investigation identifying Virginia as having the top rate of public school referrals of students to law enforcement agencies. Based on an analysis of 2011-2012 data collected by the U.S. Department of Education, Virginia’s rate of referring students to cops or courts was about three times the national rate of six referrals for every 1,000 students. Black students and those with disabilities were referred at even higher rates.
Criminal charges against Virginia students arrested at schools often fell heavily on middle-school kids and black students, the Center also found after examining local arrest records in some jurisdictions.
Among these students was Kayleb Moon-Robinson, an autistic sixth-grade student who was charged in the fall of 2014 with disorderly conduct for kicking a trash can after he became upset at his school in Lynchburg. The 11-year-old was also handcuffed, arrested and charged with felony assault on a police officer when he tried to break free from an officer’s grasp.
Kayleb’s story and other examples of the criminalization of young students were also featured in a report the Center produced in collaboration withReveal, an investigative public radio program.
The Center investigation helped “generate a lot of talk—and now action,” said Jason Landberg, education attorney for the JustChildren Program of the Legal Aid Justice Center in Virginia.
JustChildren’s attorneys represent special-needs students in disputes over appropriate educational services at their schools. The lawyers have grown increasingly concerned that students are getting arrested and prosecuted for behavior at school that’s not uncommon for children their age, or conduct that stems from a disability. A number of conservative organizations in Virginia have also urged reforms to school policing, including doing away with disorderly conduct charges against students.
On Monday, three bills backed by JustChildren were referred to the full House Education Committee from the House Elementary and Secondary Subcommittee. The measures are scheduled to be heard in the full committee later this week.
One proposal, HB1061, sponsored by Henrico County Democrat Lamont Bagby, would require schools to consider “feasible alternatives” before referring students to law enforcement or expelling them. The proposed requirement would not apply to students accused of having firearms or certain other kinds of weapons at school.
LaRock’s HB 1132 would strike language from state code that some administrators interpret as a mandate that they report any possible misdemeanor to law enforcement. The other LaRock bill, HB 1134, would eliminate the option to charge elementary and secondary students with committing disorderly conduct at school or school events.
Another House bill that would also scale back the role of school police has already passed out of the House of Delegates with overwhelming bipartisan support. HB 487, which was approved on a 95-to-2 votes in the House, is sponsored by Jennifer McClellan, a Richmond Democrat.
McClellan’s bill amends language in state legislation that authorizes state grants to pay for school resource officers; the legislation currently requires such grant-funded officers—who are a minority of the state’s school cops—to enforce “school board rules and codes of school conduct.”
Striking this language, McClellan said, will provide more discretion to school administrators and officers so they don’t have to feel compelled to involve police in relatively minor violations of school rules.
“That’s not really the officers’ job,” McClellan said.
McClellan said she thinks another bill she is co-sponsoring—LaRock’s proposal to end disorderly conduct charges against students—could likely face amendments if it is to move on.
Legislators, she said, have discussed the idea of applying a prohibition on disorderly conduct charges to younger students only, or limiting the prohibition to cover only students enrolled at schools where an incident takes place. That way, she said, school officials could have some flexibility to react to a disruption created by minors who aren’t enrolled at a school but cause a disruption.
Focused on special-needs students, that measure would require that students charged with “willfully disrupting” school be afforded the opportunity to submit special educational plans or behavior assessments as part of their defense in court. The minor, at least 10 days before trial, would have to inform prosecutors of the intent to use the documents as evidence and provide prosecutors with copies.
McClellan acknowledged that a number of her colleagues in Virginia legislature support a hard “law-and-order” line and are reluctant to embrace some of the proposals. “But this is an area I know has bipartisan support,” she said, referring to calls to reform school-policing policies.
After the Center report was published and aired last April, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, appointed a cabinet-level task force to come up with ideas for how to reform school policing. Last October, members of the task force said they were launching a “Classrooms, not Courtrooms” initiative to retrain all school police in the state and help schools embrace the use of alternative discipline methods.
This story is from the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit, independent investigative news outlet.
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For as long as anyone can remember, children bought and sold for sex in the United States have been ignored or worse — they have been arrested, incarcerated and released right back onto the streets. Some victims of commercial sexual exploitation (CSE) are reported to child welfare, but these cases are routinely turned away and referred to law enforcement. Our public systems have failed to identify these children as victims of child abuse in need of child welfare and community supports.
In the past few years, California has witnessed an expansion in services and attention paid to these children through the juvenile justice system. A handful of California county probation departments and juvenile courts have established innovative programs such as the Succeed Through Achievement and Resilience (S.T.A.R.) Court in Los Angeles County, which provides referrals for commercially sexually exploited children (CSEC), and the Girls Courts in Alameda, Orange, Sacramento and San Mateo counties. The treatment, as opposed to punishment, these programs offer CSEC has been a welcome reform.
But the changes that have taken place remain almost exclusively within the context of delinquency. Therefore, despite the increase in services, the message remains the same: Children who have been raped and traumatized by their traffickers and purchasers are criminals. Prostitutes.
In any other context our values are clear: When an adult rapes a child, the child is a victim and the adult is the criminal. When money changes hands, this same child is criminalized and the adults, more often than not, walk away.
Some claim that locking up youth is necessary for “their own protection.” This paternalistic message fails in translation. It communicates that the youth have done something wrong, rather than something wrong was done to the youth.
It is time we reform our systems so that these children are not further traumatized. All child victims of rape are victims. Period.
Acknowledging these children as victims is only the beginning. Our public systems must commit to effectively identifying CSEC. All major gatekeepers within our systems — from educators to social workers, police officers to homeless youth providers — should screen for victims and have protocols to connect them to trauma-informed services.
Systems must also prioritize prevention for at-risk children. Since children who become victims are frequently those with prior involvement with the child welfare system, we must start there. Our system and community networks must work together to reduce the number of victims by fortifying our children’s and their families’ protective factors, injecting preventive education into schools, and ensuring that all children have access to treatment to address prior childhood trauma and reduce their vulnerability to exploitation.
Now, as the country begins to implement the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act (HR 4980), all states share the same impetus to design policies to best serve children who are, or are at risk of becoming, CSEC. These policies include reporting requirements to determine prevalence and, ideally, begin tracking outcomes for children. Ahead of the curve is California, the state with the largest child welfare population, which is positioned to establish a model for system reform.
In 2014, California enacted legislation (SB 855) clarifying that trafficked children are victims and, as such, are properly served by child welfare. The legislation also established the groundbreaking Commercially Sexually Exploited Children (CSEC) Program, incentivizing counties to develop and implement interagency CSEC protocols. Most critically, these protocols must include a multidisciplinary teaming approach to identify and serve CSEC, with child welfare as the lead.
Since the law’s passage, child welfare agencies in 35 of California’s 58 counties have engaged in cross-agency dialogue to outline current and planned CSEC protocols. All of these counties received planning funding. The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) provided additional funding to 22 of these counties to finalize and implement their interagency protocols. To assist with these efforts, CDSS established a Child Trafficking Response Unit and worked with the California Child Welfare Council’s CSEC Action Team to develop a number of resources, including a model interagency protocol.
On Dec. 1, multidisciplinary teams from 21 counties convened for an innovative, peer-based learning opportunity organized by the CSEC Action Team and its partners. After a series of panels and simulations, county teams turned inward and worked together to digest new information and apply promising practices to their own protocols. Following the event, the CSEC Action Team launched a CSEC listserv to promote information sharing across counties on such topics as specialized child welfare units, prevention curricula and even successful Request for Proposals (RFP) for community-based providers.
Despite its progress, California still has a way to go. SB 855 is well over a year old and exploited children continue to be charged with prostitution and related offenses and sent to jail. Most CSEC Program counties have not finalized their child welfare-led protocols and another 23 counties have not yet opted into the program. Up until now, training for social workers and probation officers has been inconsistently applied throughout the state, and many system providers still believe in the need to detain CSEC for their own good.
Despite the slow start, there are strong indicators pointing to California being on the right path. Many additional counties are expected to opt into next year’s CSEC Program. The more advanced efforts in Los Angeles have led to plummeting arrest rates in pilot sites following the implementation of the Law Enforcement First Responder Protocol for CSEC.
Additionally, the county recently collaborated with Rights for Girls to launch the “No Such Thing as a child prostitute” public awareness campaign, and created a regional task force led by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Finally, 22 counties are now testing the West Coast Commercial Sexual Exploitation Identification Tool (CSE-IT). Due to the requirements of HR 4980, all social workers and probation officers across the state will soon be identifying, documenting and determining services for CSEC.
States across the country must act now to identify and serve CSEC as victims of child abuse. They can begin by learning from the progress we’ve made in California.
Leslie Starr Heimov is the executive director of the Children’s Law Center of California. Kate Walker Brown is an attorney with the National Center for Youth Law. Elizabeth Laferriere is a policy analyst with the National Center for Youth Law.
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NEW YORK — As the lullaby started, a little boy named Sean listened intently. His mother watched him. She had written and prerecorded the song for him from Rikers Island.
He was on a large red couch in a cluttered office, flanked by a large teddy bear in a Santa hat and Elmo. This was Sean’s Christmas present. He could also see and talk to his mother two Christmases ago, thanks to Telestory.
Telestory is a free city program that connects children to their incarcerated parents through video conferencing. Families can talk to and read to one another face-to-face through a camera and a flat-screen television.
“This program is not an agency or institution. This is a warm, accepting place where children can talk with their parents,” said Dr. Frank Corigliano, a psychologist at the New York Society for Ethical Culture in Manhattan. The Society began using Telestory in 2012 to help children maintain contact with their incarcerated parent.
More than two million children have a parent who is currently incarcerated, the Society’s research found. Rikers Island houses more than 14,000 people, with a majority of those prisoners parents.
Every time Corigliano watches the video of Sean and his mother, he is reminded of the powerful connection Telestory forges for these children.
Now, this program will be offered at several Brooklyn Public Library branches.
“It’s really a lovely sight to see,” said Nick Higgins, the director of outreach services for the Brooklyn Public Libraries.
The Library runs several programs for incarcerated prisoners, such as Daddy and Me sessions, where parents are able to learn the curriculum their children are learning at school, allowing them to help with their children’s homework.
“We wanted to help children keep in touch with their parents as well as build a better bridge for those who are incarcerated back into our community,” Higgins said.
In 2014, with the help of Corigliano and the rest of the New York Society for Ethical Culture, as well as the city’s Department of Corrections, the Brooklyn Public Library brought Telestory to its main branch.
“Our core belief is that these televisits should not replace an actual visit with a parent, it should just help to bring them closer,” Corigliano said.
“Sometimes these visits can be difficult to schedule for the library, but it’s definitely worth it [for the children] in the end,” said Higgins.
“Oh yes my heart you hold, you’re worth more than gold.”
By the end of the lullaby, Sean was still excited and beaming.
“Pretty cool, right?” his mother asked.
Sean nodded, his gaze still locked on his mother. He left that day with a copy of his prerecorded lullaby, knowing that:
“Momma loves you, no matter what you’re going through.”
I recently trained some probation officers on something called graduated sanctions -- a best practice in the supervision of juveniles that gives probation officers discretion to respond immediately to probation violations without having to file a petition, arrest the kid and appear before the judge.
It’s worth mentioning, because a number of courts do not use it, but suffer busier dockets and tend to have higher detention and recidivist rates.
It has confounded me why some of us in this business haven't figured out that keeping officers in the field and out of the courtroom, reduces recidivism. The real work, you might say, is outside the courtroom.
But those of us doing graduated sanctions must do it correctly.
My observation of those jurisdictions that have not adopted this best practice is due to not knowing it is an effective supervision tool or because of philosophy -- either on the part of the judge, probation, or both -- that is grounded in either judicial discretion, a "get tough" attitude or a combination of the two.
Discretion is a double-edged sword -- it can kill your enemy or the one's you seek to protect. A common judicial response I often hear when doing training on risk assessment tools for detention decision-making--they take away our discretion.
Judicial discretion is not unfettered. It must be exercised within the parameters of the constitution and state law. For example, the criteria that guide judges in their decision to detain are two fold -- risk of flight and danger to the community. Judicial discretion to detain must be grounded in findings of fact that support the criteria. The question is what evidence creates a risk of flight or danger to the community?
Detention assessment instruments are objective tools to guard against bias of any kind. They are research driven and validated to predict re-offending with good accuracy. Despite the effectiveness of this tool, some judges protest the use of objective risk assessment instruments because they invade their discretion. They assume the assessment dictates their decision when in fact it informs their decision.
I was in Worcester, Mass., recently to address the juvenile court judges at their annual training. My topic was, "To Detain or Not to Detain: Three Parts Law, Two Parts Information, and One Part Discretion." We derive our discretion from the law and make our decision primarily on the information we receive. The more informed -- the better the decision.
My presentation was followed by the Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Youth Services, Edward Dolan, who analogized a judge's use of a detention assessment tool to the Red Sox manager deciding which reliever to use. It would depend on the batter, is it a lefty or a righty, did he use the pitcher yesterday, and so on using objective factors that help him to predict a good outcome.
A coach wants to win and is motivated to use objective criteria to inform his discretion on the right pitcher for that moment. Judges are motivated to prevent and reduce recidivism -- and the improper use of detention makes kids worse.
Likewise, judges who resist a graduated sanction program do so primarily because they fear releasing control to the probation officer.
A graduated sanction program is not about control -- it's about modifying behavior using swift and immediate responses to rule violations. Control and discretion are not interchangeable -- I control a case by an order, but use my discretion to delegate authority to probation officers for the sole purpose of enforcing my order and giving it meaning.
Conversely, some probation officers resist a graduated sanctions program because it's time consuming and inconvenient. Judges can't provide direct services. Behavior modification occurs in the field -- the home, school, counseling center, and so on.
Quite frankly – it’s not enough to do graduated sanctions if all it means is "graduated" and "sanctions."
The word "graduated" means "arranged in a successive order"--that means increasing or upward.
A seasoned probation officer in Arkansas once told me, "The elevator goes down too!" A response should be tailored to the violation and it can go up or down like an elevator depending on the circumstances and the needs of the youth.
The term "sanctions" means "to penalize, especially by way of discipline." The research is adamant that punishment and discipline alone does not reduce recidivism -- it increases it!
When I was punished in childhood my Mom always followed up with the "conversation" to help me make the connection between my behavior and the punisher -- that is the equivalent of therapy or treatment in the world of juvenile justice.
What if the violation of probation is a manifestation of something that is clinical in nature such as mental illness, cognition, or trauma? Punishers as sole responses do not change the behavior -- they make it worse.
I know this may be hard for some to accept who grew up with discipline as a deterrent factor. I am not dismissing discipline as a tool -- I grew up with my Mom quoting "Spare the rod, spoil the child." I am quite familiar with the spanking -- but I was more familiar with my Mom's kind words, loving arms and protective persona. Let's not forget I had a Dad who came to my sporting events, wrote to me every day I was in the Navy, and took me fishing -- not to mention I knew he would take care of my Mom.
You see, I didn’t come into this world as Johnny did with an addicted Mom dragging him to Trap Houses to get her fix and leaving him abandoned with strangers. Johnny suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, a pathway to delinquency. The punishment that worked for me will not work for Johnny. We come from two different worlds.
The probation officer told me in court, "all graduated sanctions have been exhausted and to no avail." She wanted him detained, "there is nothing left," she said.
Sadly, she was right. If the focus is on "sanction" and not "response." Johnny's conduct is a manifestation of his diagnosis for which "sanctions" as the sole response is not helpful.
Johnny is a victim of serious neglect and a childhood collection of stress for which punishment will not help him navigate through his own emotional maze of confusion, fear and insecurity that in adolescence translates into a callous and defiant attitude and in turn delinquent conduct.
When we fail to get it right, we create a vicious cycle of callousness and defiance. We punish Johnny because he is callous and defiant without understanding why he is that way. In Johnny's eyes, he sees us as callous and defiant for punishing him for self-protective behavior and that's not fair in his world and ours too.
I understand why Johnny is callous. Now, what's our excuse?
Given the high rate of torment suffered by LGBT youth in custody, activists applauded last week’s finalizing of a landmark law that took nine years to get from adoption to implementation.
Last Monday, the federal Department of Justice finalized a set of guidelines under the Prison Rape Elimination Act that could help stem the risks of the already at-risk LGBT population that is incarcerated, including minors.
“We were already working on this issue while PREA was being passed, but this raises awareness,” said Sarah Schriber, senior policy analyst with the Chicago-based Health and Medicine Policy Research group and community convener for the Illinois Court Involved LGBTQ Youth Task Force.
According to Schriber, few juvenile detention center personnel even knew what the existing anti-harassment rules were. “A much harder part is making those policies meaningful on the ground,” she said. “We’re really lagging in education.”
Along with anti-harassment policy, the new regulations create federal requirements for employee training and place limits on cross-gender searches and screenings, ensuring they only happen behind closed doors with a licensed medical practitioner.
Much of this work was already underway in Illinois, due in part to a coalition of researchers, lawyers and justice department personnel. In 2010, the Illinois Court Involved LGBTQ Youth Task Force was established to draft better policy for the Illinois juvenile justice system and lead employee trainings.
Two years later, the task force has led trainings for nearly every Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center employee who works directly with youth, educating personnel on policy and broader issues and on definitions related to sexual orientation and gender identity.
Similar workshops are being held for juvenile prisons, run by the State of Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice, as well as Cook County juvenile probation employees.
The issues facing LGBTQ youth in custody are often invisible to juvenile justice personnel and policy makers, because many young people choose not to self-identify, said Mykel Selph, director of the Office of Girls and Gender at Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center.
But a 2010 study by Angela Irvine, director of research at the Oakland-based National Council on Crime and Delinquency, found 13 percent to 15 percent of youth in the juvenile justice system consider themselves gay or gender non-conforming. In the overall population, 5 percent to 7 percent of youth identify this way.
According to a recent report by the Center for American Progress, LGBTQ youth are more likely to end up in the juvenile justice system, likely due to higher rates of bullying and harassment and lower social support at home.
Once in custody, research suggests gay and transgender youth may be more likely to experience sexual assault and harassment.
Research from 2007 by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation found 67 percent of gay or gender non-conforming men reported sexual assault by other inmates, a rate 15 times higher than among heterosexual, non-transgender male inmates.
Some sexual abuse and harassment stems from housing gender non-conforming youth with members of their biological sex. In the nation’s juvenile justice centers, a young transgender woman must still live among young men.
“People assume if you put a transgender female in a female unit, that person will assault others,” Schriber said. “Often it is the other way around.”
In Chicago, Cook County Jail has begun housing transgender women with other women, but Schriber said the policy is harder to change for youth facilities.
“People don’t understand that gender identity is pretty well established early on,” she said. “They think it’s a phase.”
The PREA guidelines mandate that “in deciding whether to assign a transgender or intersex resident to a facility for male or female residents, the agency shall consider on a case-by-case basis whether a placement would ensure the resident’s health and safety.”
But there are smaller changes detention centers can make to create a safer environment, Selph said.
Allowing transgender boys to wear boxers or having every youth in custody wear the same clothing, instead of blue and pink t-shirts, can go a long way in helping a transgender youth’s mental wellbeing, Selph said.
“Homophobia can happen in a very subtle, unintentional way,” Selph said, during a recent gathering of experts and practitioners hosted by the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. “When we talk about safety, emotional safety is implied but not focused on in a deliberate [way.] It is emotional safety that is of the utmost importance.”
Christie Thompson is a reporter with the Chicago Bureau
Photo by Advancing Transgender Equality
The Second Mile, the charity organization founded by Jerry Sandusky – the former Penn State coach convicted of 45 counts of sexual abuse in June – announced Monday it is postponing plans to transfer its programs and assets to a Houston-based nonprofit.
Earlier this summer, The Second Mile requested that it be allowed to transfer its programs and assets, totaling nearly $2 million, to Arrow Child & Family Ministries, Inc. However, The Second Mile Chief Executive, David Woodle, said the deal is suspended until all ongoing damage claims filed by the lawyers of Sandusky’s victims are resolved.
Monday, Woodle announced that his organization - in agreement with Pennsylvania attorney general and lawyers representing four youth victimized by Sandusky - has requested that the Orphans’ Court Division of the Court of Common Pleas of Center County stay a previous Petition for Distribution of Assets filed by the nonprofit.
“Both The Second Mile and Arrow feel that staying the Petition at this time will better serve all involved as it limits further stress on the victims and avoids unnecessary litigation costs,” Woodle is quoted in an official statement released by the nonprofit.
The organization was founded in 1977 by Sandusky. Woodle said the organization would continue operations, using cash reserves.
The report, published by Annie E. Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT project , entitled "Stepping Up for Kids: What Government and Communities Should Do to Support Kinship Families", found that approximately 2.7 million children are currently living with people other than their parents, an arrangement also known as kinship care. The report also found that about 9 percent of the nation’s youth will live under care of an extended family member for at least three months at some point in their childhood.
The authors of the report claim that kinship care needs to be addressed by both community and government programs, as many times family members or friends that assume parental responsibilities are hampered by limited income and the legal inability to obtain basic medical services or authorize medical consent for the children in their care.
According to the report, kinship care guardians are very likely to be poor, single, older, less educated and/or unemployed and are often unfamiliar with federal assistance programs, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Even with financial assistance, the authors of the report say kinship care guardians are likely to experience financial shortcomings, as the benefit levels for TANF recipients averages out at $249 a month for single-child households and $344 for households with two children.
According to recent U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates, the average monthly cost of raising a child in the United States is assumed to be $990, while two-child households are assumed to cost guardians, on average, an estimated $1,980 a month.
The report says that kinship care is especially prevalent in African-American communities, where children are approximately twice as likely to be raised by extended family or close family friends than the nation’s general population.
The authors of the report recommend several steps for communities and state agencies to help children in kinship care, including reform of foster-home licensing requirements and the use of TANF-funded programs to supplement low-income guardians.
“The federal government already has a solid framework in place for serving these families and several states have taken steps to actively support extended families and friends as they assume their new care giving roles,” Robert Green, Director of Family Services and Systems Policy at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, is quoted in a recent press release from the organization.
“Every state and community needs to adopt such changes, especially addressing the needs of lower-income families," he said.
Experts estimate about 2 million kids run away from home each year putting them at greater risk of physical or sexual abuse, homelessness, drug addiction and physical and mental health problems. Many are in need of medical care or other services. To ensure runaways get the help they need, police in St. Paul, Minn. who encounter runaways are using a short, 10-question screening tool to assess the runaway’s safety and whether they have been victimized while they’ve been away from home.
Medical professionals and researchers in Minnesota developed the 10-Question Tool with assistance from local police. The process began in 2002 when Laurel Edinburgh, a pediatric nurse practitioner at Children’s Hospital and Clinics of Minnesota’s Midwest Children’s Resource Center (MCRC), talked with Jim Lynch, commander of the St. Paul Police Department’s juvenile unit, about how to screen youth to identify runaways with the highest needs. But Lynch was adamant, Edinburgh said, the survey only include 10 questions because police wouldn’t have time for more.
“The community got together and started thinking about what are the interventions that can be done through the school or the police,” said Edinburgh.
Edinburgh said some of the questions in the tool were modeled on questions included in the Minnesota Student Survey given every three years to students in the 6th, 9th and 12th grades.
In communities employing the 10-Question Tool, Edinburgh said, all police receive training in its use. School resource officers — police assigned to public schools — receive additional training.
Running away is considered a status offense in most states — meaning it’s only illegal for minors — and a primary goal for police officers encountering a runaway is to determine if they need medical attention or other community resources. The questionnaire aids police in making that decision before a kid gets lost in the system, Edinburgh said.
“Because status offenders bounce between many different agencies how can you find the kid and deliver the right type of service to the teen who needs the service?” Edinburgh asked.
According to Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Nathan Whiteman, police should begin an independent investigation if a runaway indicates he or she has been sexually abused.
“The officer should also look at the totality of the circumstances to refer. I think some training related to abuse and exploitation would be beneficial for officers,” Whiteman wrote in an email exchange. But he added that specially trained Crimes Against Children investigators should handle cases of that nature.
Many runaways leave because of sexual or physical abuse in their home. In fact, according to the National Runaway Hotline, more than one third of runaway girls and boys report having been sexually abused, and 43 percent report having been physically abused, before leaving home. Additionally, more than 50 percent of youth in shelters or on the street said their parents either kicked them out or knew they were leaving and did not care.
Estimates of the number of runaways in the nation vary, but a decade's old study by the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention put it at some 1.7 million between the ages of 7 and 17. A 2010 study by the Urban Institute estimated that one in five youth had run away from home at some point before reaching age 18.
“Runaways have always been and will always be a concern,” Whiteman said. But parents can help by simply being “present in their child’s life” and listening to them.
When building the questionnaire Edinburgh said it was important to write questions that would provide the most complete picture of a runaway teen, including questions about previous abuse and drug use.
“Are there things we can identify that we know are related to high-risk teens — where we know they have some resiliency — that we can build on?” Edinburgh said.
But for the questionnaire to be effective, the teens must answer honestly.
“If youth are asked questions they do respond to adults who show they care about them,” Edinburgh said. “And we need pathways, once you ask a question, that tell us there’s intervention that can be put in place.”
Often, just knowing they have someone to talk to makes a very big difference for runaways, Edinburgh said.
“We need this kid to know that there is someone at their school or in a truancy program that cares about them; that notices they’ve run away,” Edinburgh said.
But many runaways stop going to school and can easily fall behind, so a primary goal of the 10-Question Tool, Edinburgh said, is “getting kids back to school and getting them on a normal developmental trajectory.”
The 10-Question Screening Tool:
- Why did you leave home?
- How long have you been away from home?
- Who have you been staying with while away from home?
- Did someone touch you in a way you did not like or sexually assault you when you were away from home?
- Do you have health issues that you need medical care for now?
- Has anyone hurt you or tried to hurt you while you were away from home?
- Are you afraid at home? If yes, why? Will you be safe at home? Use a 0–10 scale to quantify safe feeling (In this scale, 0 is safest and 10 is least safe).
- Do you have someone you can talk to at home or school?
- Do you drink or do drugs?
- Are you a member of a gang?
Photo by Child Quest International