It has become more apparent to me that the future of juvenile justice reform may rest in some of the lessons learned in the past combined with substantial evolving research that has positively influenced the field over the past 25 years (or so). Recent economic, social-demographic and political trends portend significant changes in the roles of federal investments and leadership as well as state public financing of juvenile justice systems.

What we know ——–

  • The economics of our country are dramatically shifting the middle class, downsizing it and rearranging capacities to generate tax revenues through various approaches
  • The fastest growing business entities in the country are nonprofit organizations – this dynamic portends a different corporatization of America around tax laws and the ways in which income can be managed (or sheltered). A predictable impact could be a reshaping of the national tax code so that fewer charitable deductions would be allowable and the missions of nonprofits can shift toward more business-related outcomes as opposed to charitable ones
  • Younger workers are entering the work force with increasing levels of debt; one consequence of this has to do with “strain” on family structure, dynamics, and family capability to provide for children without over-committing to additional debt
  • Conservative political and fiscal management philosophies now substantially impact state and federal spending so that appreciable future growth in juvenile justice research and programming via public financing is an unrealistic expectation. The future lies in public-private partnerships
  • The major innovation investments in juvenile justice have come via the private sector over the past decade or more
  • Our communities are more culturally, ethnically/racially and gender diverse than ever in the history of our country. This diversity creates both strengths and challenges. Finding common ground to help develop resilient, pro-social and educated youth while dealing with issues like retribution, accountability and public safety is complicated, and requires a new mainstreaming of values such that diverse groups can and would agree on core public safety and welfare values (e.g., “norms”) without marginalizing or diluting their diversities
  • Given the devolution of juvenile justice as seen in many states (through the reductions in federal and state appropriations over the past 12 years), creating systematic approaches toward positive youth development and youth accountability naturally falls into the hands of more local decision makers and investors/stakeholders

So what do I mean by the future resting in the past? It seems overly simplistic, but thinking back to some of the historically safest communities in our country, when crime rates were lower and when communities tended to hold broader agreement as to how to deal with risk-taking youth — there are nuggets that can be resurfaced and polished again.  Safe communities (research says, not just me) tend to have characteristics such as:

  • Strong and positive communications between parents, schools, social, recreational and criminal justice agencies whereby behaviors are consistently observed and reinforced or punished with shared values across organizations. This is the old “if it happened somewhere else, you have permission to correct my child and then let me know about it”.
  • Another way of saying this is the presence of known and appreciated networks, both formal and informal, for “telling the news” and helping parents and other authority figures channel information so that folks agree (in the main) on how to deal with children both positively and negatively at various points along a child’s path (home, school, community, etc.)
  • Clear values and a vision for what healthy, resilient, protected, just and equitable child rearing looks like across settings
  • Intolerance for behaviors that lead to crime: weapons, inappropriate substance use/abuse, bullying, etc.
  • Capability to respond immediately and effectively in “doses” commensurate with misbehavior when things go wrong – and not assigning the responsibility for solving problems to another organization or system
  • Extended support networks where the primary responsibilities for children remain within those networks and not delegated to other agencies or institutions
  • Stable and sufficient employment and workforce dynamics that allow for a primary focus on raising healthy families

So how do these observations frame juvenile justice reform for the future?

By sewing together lessons from the past with the scientifically generated prevention and evidence based literatures, we can begin to see patterns that predict reform system improvements. We need to redesign our youth-serving systems around parents, primary caregivers, extended family members and natural supports in their local ecologies – in contrast with the systems that we have today, where our primary formal interventions are often housed in schools, courts, and law enforcement agencies. We need to wrap developmental theory and brain development into community-based interventions and family supports in addition to the more traditional juvenile justice type settings (and fund them accordingly). We should help employers and employment systems develop flexible schedules and processes so that parents and extended family can be the primary interventionists for their children (including the creation of workforce programs and internships for youth that compliment family and community goals).  And we should invest in grassroots coalition and collaboration infrastructures instead of building more formal programming in the traditional agencies.  This isn’t to say that folks have what they need; indeed they do not and our schools, community agencies and state government systems continue to lose important budget resources. Yet, to turn this tide we must return to what works – helping to nurture effective families and family supports, empowering local informal and formal networks that agree on child rearing values and philosophies in the main, and engaging communities that “own” their human resource outcomes by virtue of their willingness to get involved and stay involved over the long-term.

Federal leadership can play a significant role in these ideas. Substantially reframing research and policy investments toward family and community engagement, community based accountability systems and evidence-based outcomes at these levels can help. Investing in new partnerships that leverage public, private and volunteer resources targeting local ecologies that require very specific outcomes, accountability within these local family and community-based networks would be very exciting. Sure the work is complicated and we know a lot about this already – both good and bad. But our kids are our kids, not the schools’ or the courts’ kids. We owe them all the innovation, flexibility, creativity and persistence that loving families and communities can generate.

2014 – wow. The time is a-aflyin’, isn’t it? So let’s get down to real business this year and reauthorize the JJDP Act. Not the baseline, compliance-focused, core requirements sort of formula that the JJDPA is known for. No, let’s re-imagine the JJDPA as perhaps JJDPA 5.0.

My ‘New Year’ wishes include many things related to vulnerable children and social justice. Somehow I hope that a dialogue catches fire as to the need to put many more resources toward supporting families, early childhood initiatives, more effective education strategies, medical and health efforts, and community engagement to help us proactively support children and families before major problems occur. But near the top of my list is a wish for federal leadership and innovation that truly engages the broad field known as juvenile justice and leverages federal, state and local resources in ways not previously imagined.

So without further adieu and in hopes that this post somehow gets part of the dialogue started, the following elements are additions/modifications to the currently proposed JJDPA reauthorization effort that I would love to see included in any future legislation. By no means is the list comprehensive.  (remember this is a blog and not a thesis):

  • More attention to creating a field-growing and cutting edge OJJDP, one that has the authority and reasonably sufficient resources to truly innovate, conduct research (or fund research), translate research into realistic program strategies, evaluate, and provide appropriate levels of training and technical assistance where needed – in addition to being “state-friendly” when dealing with compliance related concerns
  • A capability within the JJDPA that incentivizes states (e.g., affords them more dollars) to help create and maintain “practice excellence” standards for their State Advisory Groups (i.e., offer additional resources/tools/opportunities to those states that develop and sustain SAGs that actually achieve basic requirements, but also moves them toward excellence in the field). This new federal capability might include options to:
    • Include incentives to grow and leverage SAG federal dollars with other state, local and philanthropic resources to enhance their juvenile justice system networks
    • Develop and maintain a sustainable training and competency (skill-based) system for SAG members to ensure that they not only understand their basic requirements under the Act, but find ways in their states to become the effective policy and practice “voice” for vulnerable at-risk and juvenile justice involved youth as appropriate with other partners/entities
    • Include incentives from OJJDP for states (SAGs) to adopt, sustain, measure and report on the evolution of their strategies toward evidenced-supported practices. True evidence-supported practices when delivered well save money and achieve better results. Why not do this? This is better government
    • Include incentives or even hold-harmless rules/practices that allow SAGs that are in JJDPA compliance to try new ideas or programming with some portion of their federal dollars, in response to unique needs or cultural issues within their jurisdictions (in other words, keep a focus on evidence-supported practices but incentivize culturally, racially and community-relevant approaches not-yet created or delivered to the EBP literature)
    • Foster more effective partnerships with grass-roots advocacy and other agencies as they often have strong local knowledge into the dynamics driving community conditions and can really lend a hand in fostering improvements in legislative, program, and budget thinking. This needs to be a concrete expectation, in my view, moving forward as SAGs can become insular and a bit removed from various activities within the states
    • Create and maintain more integrated state-level (and local) data systems that truly help understand the unique vs. duplicated counts of youths in various juvenile justice, mental health, substance abuse, child welfare, education, and related systems –until we can accurately describe and plan for childrens’ needs in holistic ways, we often re-create bureaucratically driven efforts to help that are duplicative, expensive and cause major problems with accountability
    • A significant national and state-by-state process  for understanding how to phase out the Valid Court Order exception so that judges and law enforcement have effective alternatives that can truly be effective in lieu of juvenile detention
    • A national dialogue with concrete, measurable and actionable strategies on how to improve the conditions confronting children of color in this country. Inextricably linked to the income gap, poverty, and opportunity, this dialogue must coincide with the Concentration of Federal Efforts piece of the existing Act. It is also part and parcel to thinking of juvenile justice as youth development, not youth detainment/incarceration. We must re-label and repackage our work based on research emerging over the last few decades

So we’ll hold here and dream of these elements for now —- but if we could move our federal and congressional leadership toward thinking of the JJDPA not as more or bigger government, but as a set of tools that actually reduce government’s responsibilities to react to youth problems by engaging in science-supported ways and avoiding a reliance on interventions too late in the equation. A focus on evidence supported prevention, proven practices, true system wide quality improvement, properly funded evaluation, sustainability, effective community/family engagement, and locally efficacious systems of care guided by strong federal policy and leadership — now that would be a 2014 worth waiting for.

In September 2013, the International Association of Chiefs of Police released a comprehensive survey report (Law Enforcement’s Leadership Role in the Advancement of Promising Practices in Juvenile Justice — Executive Officer Survey Findings) supported by the MacArthur Foundation. It is nice work and illustrative of baseline information from which future efforts can be measured. There are many conclusions in the report and a lot of morsels to chew upon – too many for a full review in this post. The focus here is on a couple of findings in the report.

Most glaring to me is the finding that overwhelmingly the majority of law enforcement leaders perceive the juvenile justice system to be ineffective.  Law enforcement leaders agree that there should be a separate legal system for juveniles; yet their perceptions of the current system are not positive. According to the study, the majority of respondents perceive the juvenile justice system as generally lacking responsive, effective and rehabilitative impacts. There are other issues (problems) noted including problems with information sharing, not being involved in key decision making, a need for more (and more effective) diversion programs, along with wishes to be more engaged as leaders in their local juvenile justice systems.

If you asked a youth and/or their caretaker(s) involved in the juvenile justice system to identify which agencies make up the juvenile justice system, my bet would be that their responses would include local law enforcement. Kids and their families see the arresting/petitioning officer as those deciding initial criminality or blame. In my experience communities often identify law enforcement as the first step in the juvenile justice system. Yet professionals among the agencies working with these families see things differently. This is a fault line that needs immediate attention. I’ve worked around the behavioral health, child welfare and juvenile justice systems for over 30 years. It is beautiful when everyone collaborates and wraps themselves around a youth – holding youth accountable, teaching skills, engaging families, taking care of victims, and ensuring that the public is safe. Yet it is not so nice when agencies do not collaborate, don’t share a vision for how things should work and then begin to cast blame when things do not go well. Unfortunately, the IACP survey seems to imply that law enforcement leaders view themselves as outside of the juvenile justice system and therefore not a part of an integrated solution. Clearly they are not (as agencies) subsumed within the juvenile justice system but certainly if planned and implemented well, juvenile officers within law enforcement can and should be strategically integrated into effective local juvenile justice systems.

Social science has demonstrated that child/youth competencies and resilience are most effectively built through integration of services and resources. Any services provided that do not integrate community-based resources in consistently effective ways are less impactful (and can actually be harmful). Knowing this challenges us to find ways to make law enforcement professionals a more integrated component within the juvenile justice system. Doing so will increase their ownership in the shared outcomes of any work on behalf of youths entering the system as well as juvenile justice professionals’ engagement in law enforcement’s responsibilities — thus increasing overall system effectiveness. This starts with questioning the vision, mission, objectives and strategies of both systems (law enforcement as well as juvenile justice) and coming to common agreement as to the roles and responsibilities required of each agency. These roles must complement and integrate rather than work in silos or as partial collaborations. Yes, we’ll have to tackle the age-old debate of how much “punishment” is needed versus how much habilitation or rehabilitation may be required at the macro level as well as on case-by-case bases. But until we agree on what an optimal juvenile justice system should look like and then provide the training and other resources to ensure effective integration of services (in this context, law enforcement investigations and other activities are thought of as services), we’ll continue to find plenty of fault(s) with each agency responsible for various components. Any of you that have been around know that it is all too common for one agency to find fault with another when things don’t go well (e.g., blaming schools, families/parents, the police, courts, mental health, substance abuse, case manager, etc.). We need our leadership in law enforcement and juvenile justice to make this happen. There are enough challenges outside of the juvenile justice system bearing down on vulnerable families – we don’t need to increase fragmentation by our lack of consensus and integration of efforts.

There now exists sufficient scientific research and fiscal evaluation confirming that evidence-based practices in the areas of prevention (e.g., youth violence and crime, adolescent pregnancy, substance abuse, early childhood education, housing and even national defense) and various clinical interventions can and do save dollars as well as achieve better consumer and/or public safety outcomes. There are lots of reasons both documented and suspected as to why this is so. True evidence-supported practices are usually developed in smaller settings, with controlled samples, sufficient budgetary resources along with high degrees of quality training and delivery in their implementation. Bringing them to scale in larger populations and settings has always been a challenge as well as understanding the roles of culture, race, ethnicity and other variables in their relevance. Much effort has gone into translational and implementation science, as well as transdisiplinary research to bring into awareness the key drivers of success when implementing EBP’s.

A missing ingredient in the articulation of “what works” is a clear and practical definition of engagement so that research-to-practice scholars can develop and target specific interventions that (1) truly help those delivering services better engage youth, families and communities; and (2) help those delivering services to know it when they see it (including the measurement of engagement from start to finish). In the November 2013 American Journal of Community Psychology, Pullman et al. document a very innovative action research approach that actually involves the very youth affected by the issues toward the conceptual and practical definition of engagement —   I encourage you to read it as it helps put youth engagement into a conceptually clearer light. But the purpose of this post isn’t just to provide kudos to Pullman et al.; it is also to encourage the fiscal and policy “deciders” to invest more in making engagement a core focus of research as well as train both leaders and program providers in the best methods for engaging folks. And I’m talking about engaging folks at multiple levels – consumers of actual interventions; consumers of training; public policy advocates; administrators; and legislators/congressional members. Effective engagement centers on relationships that all parties feel good about; yet, there is much more to it than simply liking each other. Trust, history, attitudes, mutual empowerment, and fitting into the relevant social context all matter (as Pullman et al. demonstrate).

When one participates in social problem solving, there is always a lot of finger pointing – “those kids”, “those parents”, “if the schools would just…..”, “if the government would just…..”. And yes there are justifiable concerns on all fronts. But we will never solve our problems by blaming others or rationalizing our mistakes or inadequacies at their expense. We must invest our resources toward figuring out and delivering culturally and contextually more effective methods for including persons of every community affected by the issues in finding solutions that are relevant and effective within the contexts of their lives. Without more effective engagement strategies we can have all the “best” programs in the world but not a strong way to engage those that need or want change. There is no “if you build it they will come” effect in human services (including juvenile justice State Advisory Groups that, like many other entities hunger for effective tools to help their states). In fact policy makers use the traditional failures of this approach to partially justify their avoidance in investing additional dollars toward prevention programming. We must call on our federal leaders (and other supporters of research) to find interagency and transdisciplinary funding for applied research and high quality training that will get us better engaged with our customers. I would even argue that we should put engagement of key stakeholders in the forefront of training efforts moving forward (prioritize it at least for the short term) even as we train others in program and other strategic innovations. Then we owe it to ourselves to learn all that we can as leaders or practitioners to make sure that we’ve got the very best that research has taught us in our toolboxes — in the end, consumers (customers) don’t care as much about our pedigrees; they care about our abilities to relate to their problems and to apply our techniques/tools to solving their issues in ways that truly change their lives for the better.

On Monday November 4th, I attended the 20 year anniversary “celebration” of our Child Advocacy Center in our community. As a co-founder of the CAC, I carry a particular sense of pride at what the Center has been able to accomplish, first as a nascent nonprofit borrowing administrative space and most everything else to what it has become now — a freestanding, fully accredited and owned building with space and staff to apply multidisciplinary team strategies to help reduce the horrific trauma-inducing tragedies of child sexual and severe physical abuse. The CAC certainly isn’t rolling in resources and no longer in need of public support; indeed, now more than ever the CAC is short of the diversity of volunteers, staff and expanded programming for the sorts of issues confronting vulnerable children and their families. The problems are growing. And that is a BAD thing.

On the 4th, Dr. James Anderson highlighted the event as keynote speaker. Dr. Anderson is an amazing man (http://www.uncfsu.edu/chancellor/chancellors-bio). Besides his impressive academic accomplishments and credentials, Dr. Anderson is perhaps even more amazing because of his personal accomplishments. You see, Dr. Anderson is a product of a world that throws children away, leaves them to fend for themselves at impossibly young ages, and discards their futures as if children are completely disposable beings. Dr. Anderson was an unexpected child of a drug-involved mother in Washington DC. He openly describes the trauma, fear, anxiety, danger, and resentments that stem from risks he was exposed to as a child. He was raised by people to whom he refers as “the pimps, and the nuns” — the pimps were the folks around that controlled his mother and subsequently after her demise, his path to some degree. The nuns ran the local school that he attended. And of course, there were serious gangs in his neighborhood — gangs that both protected him as well as nurtured his future as an affiliated criminal and potential gang member. Dr. Anderson tells an extraordinarily moving narrative of being protected by the nuns at various critical junctures during his childhood and the impact that “doing what they could” had on his developmental trajectory.

What saved Dr. Anderson will probably never be quantifiable. But I as well as most others in the room were moved to tears by his resilience, his candor, his passions for telling his story and motivating others to get involved and give back. Dr. Anderson tells it like it is — the streets are unforgiving. The sexual trafficking of children, the drug abuse, the crime, the lack of hope for any kind of future and the scars that even those that find themselves adapted to a more “normal” adulthood carry deep inside. Yet, he also has a narrative of hope — a true message that along with whatever resilience manifests itself to be in each child comes the immeasurable but critical — yes critical — importance that there is NO SMALL BENEFIT from someone giving time, money, compassion and even just being there to listen when an abused or neglected child needs help. Everything helps, and everything matters to a child with nothing. We all are busy. We have families and jobs, churches and soccer or football games to get to. But many children have only fear to look forward to; inadequate food, being forced to trade sex for drugs or housing. It is absolutely unforgivable that with the wealth and advanced systems we have in this country, the pervasiveness of child abuse and neglect grows daily. How can this possibly happen?

I’m with Dr. Anderson — we have to do more. We absolutely must do better. We have to get ourselves in gear and reach out to that vulnerable mother, the absent father, that struggling family in need of most any kind of help. They are our neighbors and we are theirs. Please come with me and make a commitment to honor Dr. Anderson’s message to get involved and make a real and lasting difference in the lives of vulnerable children. Each night in a shelter, on a storm drain, under a bridge, or held hostage in a bedroom by an adult that cares only for themselves and nothing for that child — is another night of horror, despair and fear for those children in such situations. It should be in our spiritual and moral DNAs that no child should be in those environments. Please, let’s find a way and get more done about this.

To learn more about the Cumberland County CAC, please point your browser to (www.childadvocacycenter.com). Or, go to http://www.nationalcac.org (the National Children’s Advocacy Center) to get more information about the issues at that level. Thank you for reading and hopefully for what you’ll do — heed Dr. Anderson’s call and get busy. We must.

The stars aligned last night in Raleigh, NC — Bold, wonderful shining lights bright enough to illuminate a pathway to stronger children and families came out to celebrate and be celebrated during Action for Children’s 30th Anniversary Celebration. AfC, an advocacy group with a vision for improving the quality of life for NC’s children regardless of income, background, geography or circumstances, hosted the event at the NC Museum of History. Child advocacy legends and heroes filled the crowd — some better known than others. They were there to highlight AfC’s 30 years of bringing to NC’s collective consciousness the issues confronting children. One could not help but feel extremely warm and appreciative of the bold leadership brought by the folks attending. AfC honored former Senator Linda Garrou, Ms. Doris Mack, Senator (Dr.) William Purcell, and John and Clare Tate with special awards for their tremendous leadership and accomplishments in the field. These are exemplary people who do what is needed — look after children and families, most often vulnerable, with way too few resources and far too few people to care about the glaring resource challenges and gaps in their lives. These folks make the world safer for children, more protective, and yes sometimes even more regulated. Congratulations to the Board of Directors (past and present) of Action for Children for continuing to make children and families a priority. Too often their voices are like the proverbial tree falling in the political forest — making a noise, but wonder who’s hearing it. And thanks to the sponsors and donors that helped the event come to life.

North Carolina and in my view, this entire country, lacks a crystallized vision for raising healthy children and supporting families. Indeed, the recent past has been a startling wake up call to the erosion of political and economic supports in these areas. Our communities are literally crying out in pain for effective leadership to ensure that fewer children and their families are impacted by the growing disparities in resources  — there are cries of poverty and hunger, gun violence, health care shortages and disparate opportunities for treatment, human and sexual trafficking, youths sent to criminal/juvenile justice systems instead of more effective community solutions, educational system erosion among other concerns. It is very easy to become demoralized, to walk away with the lingering feeling that as long as the political situation remains as it is now, nothing will change.

Well folks, tough times call for innovation, transformative leadership, and greater energy than ever before. Our kids and communities need us now more than ever. Just like our daddies used to tell us, “if you quit now, you’ll be a quitter for life”. The circumstances confronting us should make us angry; where is the compassion and leadership we saw in the 60’s when persons of color and their allies so boldly stood up? Where is the outrage at the grossly disproportional conditions affecting families? What will it take for citizens to coalesce around children who desperately need us?

We need to bring our resources together, sharpen our vision and better define our mission, and then go after it with every ounce of our beings — our children and their families need us and depend on the hopes that someone, somewhere, will move the levers of power and find a way to make life better for kids and families. I’m not talking about socialism here — this is about recognizing that in a republic driven by market economies like in the United States, the winners take more and “losers” take little or none. That is fine as long as the “losers” don’t need health care, don’t attend public schools or get their health care at the Public Health Centers, don’t require jail or prison cells, or don’t need assistance in their golden years. But when these larger social questions confront us, we must find rational, affordable and more compassionate ways to meet the needs of our communities and families.

So let’s keep talking, celebrating our shining stars and heroes, and never walk away from those depending on us. Our religious doctrines (no matter the faith) teach us to “suffer the children” and to help those that cannot help themselves — groups like Action for Children, NC’s Covenant for Children, and others can be key catalysts for the conversations needed today. Let’s support them in deeds and words.

Was  recently reading the Des Moines Register (http://www.desmoinesregister.com/article/20131102/NEWS/311020018/Experts-offer-solutions-juvenile-justice-system?nclick_check=1) to review what the experts said toward reforming and/or improving juvenile justice. Each expert, accomplished in their own fields and organizations, indicated strong support for various ways to improve juvenile justice either within their state, or the field in general if one thinks from a national perspective.

What struck me about the article was the variety of– and strategically different approaches–offered for improving “the system”. Clearly in the article experts noted significant support for interventions at the earliest possible point, an overarching focus on restorative approaches, matching the right program to the right level of risk, as well as ensuring that those truly requiring court supervision get that while ensuring high quality and accountability. Most everyone in the field would concur that these are state-of-the-art directions to go in.

So articles like the one in the Des Moines Register often take me to a thought I’ve been mulling over for some time — what if we really did have consensus developed practice guides/guidelines, or basic sets of evidence-supported recommendations that are developmentally appropriate for youth to guide decision-making at each key decision point in the system? What if there were very clear, science based guidelines for law enforcement officers, district attorneys, public defenders, court staff, and allied agencies working with young people so that discretion was less influential and evidence/science/best practices more directly related to the issues brought before them? And, what if these guidelines were developed and approved across systems and agencies, not just within professional groups or bodies? I’m not talking about things like bench books or general guidebooks for practitioners — more like, practice guides similar to what the American Association of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry uses for clinical conditions. The National Association of School Psychologists, National Association of Social Workers (their practice standards), the American Psychological Association (see their youth violence prevention materials) and several other organizations use similar tools or guides in their roles. Is this even a good idea?

Work has been done in several of these areas — for example the National Juvenile Defender Center worked hard with colleagues to develop the National Juvenile Defense Standards (see MacArthur’s Models for Change). And the not-so-long-ago released National Research Council’s Reforming Juvenile Justice: A Developmental Approach does a great job of pointing the field as a whole down the proper road to integrate developmental science into the various elements of thought required for at-risk and offending youths across the spectrum.  Excellent efforts toward these ends are found in Janet K. Wiig and John A. Tuell’s Guidebook for Juvenile Justice & Child Welfare System Coordination and Integration: A Framework for Improved Outcomes (Child Welfare League of America, Inc., 2004, rev. 2008.

But I fear that one of the criticisms of juvenile justice has to do with the lack of clear consensus on “what to do with ________(fill in the name of the youth)”. Depending on with whom you speak, in what location, for what problem or crime, and for how the problem behavior impacts which victim(s), you can get widely different recommendations on what may be the best course of action to pursue (including the centuries old dosage arguments about treatment versus punishment). While this can be construed as a strength of the juvenile justice system – that is, individualized sanctions and plans of care based on local jurisdictions and resources; variably recommended or offered “solutions” can also be thought about as a sense of disagreement as to what works, what might be the best practice approach(es) to pursue — and worst of all, where is the data supporting each recommendation made on behalf of youth and their families or caretakers?

I believe we need to work much more aggressively to advocate for and obtain federal leadership, state support as well as philanthropic investments to move toward consensus-driven, evidence supported practice guidelines for key decision points across the juvenile justice system. It is a herculean task. But without better data linked to specific recommendations and services for youths (including cost benefit, cost effectiveness data) at the points in time where critical judicial and/or case management decisions are needed, it is sometimes hard from public policy and advocacy standpoints to specify why certain things should happen to reform or improve our system. We should try to agree with each other (across law enforcement, courts, judicial and other branches of supervision and services) as to the proper courses of action to pursue in order to convince policy makers and appropriators — and these agreements should be based more on science, field-driven data and best practice guidelines and less on opinion, historical practices or preferences.