Improving the Lives of Crossover Youth in California's Juvenile Justice System

Improving the Lives of Crossover Youth in California's Juvenile Justice System

Earlier this month, I attended Sierra Health Foundation’s public launch event for the Positive Youth Justice Initiative in Sacramento, CA. The Positive Youth Justice (PYJ) Initiative is spearheading a major shift in California’s juvenile justice practice and policy at the county level. The focus is to improve the lives of crossover youth ― young people who have experienced documented neglect, abuse and/or trauma, have a history in the child welfare and foster care system, and who currently are engaged in the state's juvenile justice system.

The event brought together four counties from across the state that have been selected to receive grant funding to implement an innovative approach to juvenile justice reform known as the Positive Youth Justice Initiative.

Alameda County Probation Department, San Diego County Probation Department, San Joaquin County Probation Department and Vallejo City Unified School District in Solano County will each receive $400,000 for a two-year period to test a series of reforms designed to transform juvenile justice into a more just, effective system and drastically improve the lives of the youth they engage. These implementation grants were made possible through the Sierra Health Foundation and its funding partners, The California Endowment and the California Wellness Foundation. To date, $4.5 million has been invested in PYJI.

Soon after the launch of the planning phase in 2012, the Sierra Health Foundation engaged ZeroDivide as a thought partner to explore with foundation staff, TA providers and county agencies the role that technology could play in communities of learning and practice for this initiative’s focus on “crossover youth.” Ripe for investigation are technology systems like bulk text messaging to assist case managers in connecting with youth, the adoption and integration of data systems to allow for an individuals health, education and workforce development information to be easily transferred between county agencies, schools and community-based organizations. To date, ZeroDivide has advised on the adoption and integration of a project management and collaboration tool in support of the PYJI Learning Community made up of Sierra Health staff, TA providers and county representatives.

Positive Youth Justice Initiative Speaker Series

The video below was filmed at Sierra Health Foundation's Positive Youth Justice Initiative Speaker Series event on June 7, 2012.

Sierra Health Foundation’s Positive Youth Justice Initiative – Welcome and Introduction from Youth Empowerment Studios on Vimeo.

What is a “crossover youth”? 

“Crossover youth” refers to young people who crossover between the child welfare and juvenile justice systems, the number of youth entering and reentering care, and the length of stay in out-of-home care. Many of these young people come with histories of neglect, abuse, trauma and, social and familial disconnections that impede them from successfully transitioning to adulthood.

Sierra Health Foundation’s experience coupled with compelling new child and youth development research, gave rise to the development of a comprehensive, data-driven approach that combines proven practice models and targets the highest-risk youth. By focusing on crossover youth, successful interventions will no doubt have a broader impact on all youth across both systems.

The event featured a number of speakers and panelists, among them California Assembly Member Tom Ammiano who co-chairs the Select Committee on Justice Re-investment, youth who have experienced the child welfare and juvenile justice systems and who also participated in the Positive Youth Justice Initiative program design and pilot programs in their counties. Field leaders in child and youth development, trauma-informed care and wraparound service delivery also offered key insights for the work ahead.

The closing remarks Chet Hewitt, President and CEO of the Sierra Health Foundation, made to the audience particularly struck me. He spoke about how while we now often find ourselves marveling at those who build apps and data systems for various purposes—including those related to health, education and economic outcomes in under-resourced communities—we should also remember reminded to do some of our marveling at those who are able to build relationships.  In the end, many of the transformations we seek in health, education and economic development come down to one-to-one relationships.

As a prime example, he explained that while technology would play a tremendous role in the access of many to quality health care, especially in the ACA enrollment process and ongoing health and wellness management, the majority of positive health and well being outcomes will come about as a result of one-to-one relationships built upon knowledge, transparency and trust—

The Entrepreneur (interrupting again): Whoah! Wait a minute! The last time we checked in on this, you had me convinced that expanded opportunities for health, education, civic participation and related increases in social outcomes were dependent on greater access and meaning adoption of technology for under-resourced people and the organizations that serve them—

The Entrepreneur (interrupting himself): —That technology and access could possibly “disrupt place as a proxy for opportunity” (read more about this idea, and learn about the interrupting entrepreneur>>)

Me: Tru’dat! But, technology access and adoption are only part of the equation for historically under-resourced communities. When looking at issues related to health, education and economic development progress and the transformation of individuals, communities and even whole systems will ultimately require and rely on personal interactions. In many programmatic models technology access, adoption and integration serve as leverage points to enhance the effectiveness of one-on-one relationships. I think that what Mr. Hewitt is suggesting, is that technology integration allows us to focus on the development and refinement of practice that leads to positive outcomes. Technology can allow a patient to be more informed about their health and thereby have a more engaged interaction with their health provider about treatment; a “flipped classroom” allows a teacher to focus on active learning engagement while students on in his classroom. In the case of the PYJ Initiative, a case manager with access to centralized client data might be able to spend more of her or his time refining approaches to youth development interventions, and delivering quality mentorship experiences.

The Entrepreneur: Leveraging technology allows us to more effectively get to these one-to-one relationships-

Me:  It allows us to get farther, faster.

McCrae Parker is a Program Manager at ZeroDivide with 20 years of experience in the youth development, workforce development and media education fields.

Positive Youth Justice Initiative, Youth, technology adoption