MFC Boosts Aftercare

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The article on Models for Change in Pennsylvania regrettably fails to capture the nature and substance of the initiative.

Pennsylvania’s juvenile justice system is better for youth in 2008 than it was four years ago – and Models for Change has been a significant part of the state’s leap forward. Investments fell into three areas: aftercare (re-entry), mental health and disproportionate minority contact.

In aftercare, where Juvenile Law Center has organized the work, state leaders developed a policy statement very early on that established a vision for re-entry. The policy statement has shaped state policies and county practices. MacArthur dollars are a catalyst for public and private sectors to make these recommended policy changes.

Models for Change has led to numerous changes in activities, attitudes, funding, policies and practices. In aftercare, these include:

• A grant to Education Law Center-Pa. for creation of a toolkit so probation officers could become advocates for prompt school re-entry for youth who had been excluded from school following delinquency placements.

• Five counties have received funding to develop aspects of model approaches to re-entry.

• The Department of Education has for the first time, with MacArthur support, hired a specialist whose sole purpose is promoting continuity of quality education for youth who are adjudicated delinquent.

• The Department of Public Welfare (DPW) has allocated millions of dollars to implement evidence- based practices to support re-entry and to divert youth from placement.

• The State Advisory Group (known as the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Committee, or JJDPC) has allocated millions of dollars to support counties as they replicate evidence-based practices and evaluate their re-entry and placement prevention programs.

• Facilitated by staff hired with MacArthur and JJDPC funds, three dozen counties have come together to change juvenile aftercare probation practices and transform how services are delivered in placement programs and in communities.

There have been similar advances in mental health and disproportionate minority contact.

Foundation dollars, combined with strong leadership at the state and county levels, augmented by state and private dollars, have created an enormous positive cultural shift around re-entry and the other areas of focus. They have also fostered a host of progressive and innovative home-grown policies and practices.

Robert Schwartz, Executive Director
Juvenile Law Center