Weekly Notes: Helpful tool to seek unlikely partners in philanthropy; psych meds in the news again; big upcoming events in D.C.; and more

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Notes is back after a week hiatus. We were going to post on Black Friday, but somebody pepper sprayed us in the stores while we were shopping and it was hard to type after that. Seriously, pepper spray lady? Come onnnnn.

***Two big juvenile justice events next week in our nation’s capital: The MacArthur Foundation’s annual Models for Change initiative, and the Annie E. Casey Foundation-funded Symposium, “Shutting Down the Massachusetts Training Schools: Reflections on the Past; Lessons for the Future.”

It should be a great contrast in themes. On Monday, we expect to hear a bit about how the four core states have used the foundation’s support to craft steady, incremental change in juvenile justice, mostly focused on strategies to help keep youth out of the system or at least the deep end of it. Our tentative plan is to check out the sessions on co-occurring treatment for juveniles with substance abuse and mental health problems, and the two afternoon sessions on alternatives to arrests.

Tuesday, former Massachusetts juvenile justice boss Jerome Miller will lead a day-long conversation about how, in the span of three years, he essentially blew up Massachusetts’ entire juvenile justice system and started over.

Prominently involved in the symposium will be Miller, Casey juvenile justice leader Bart Lubow, consultant Paul DeMuro and Youth Advocates Program CEO Jeff Fleischer. That is like the 1920s Yankees lineup of ornery old reformers.

***JJ Today dropped in to yesterday’s release of “Notorious to Notable,” which provides a nice timeline and summary of how the philanthropic world got involved in efforts to reform D.C.’s troubled juvenile justice system, which is run jointly by the city courts and the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services.

The one-paragraph summary of that reform: D.C. has shut down one of the worst juvenile facilities ever and replaced it with a smaller, more rehabilitation-friendly structure; swapped a school run by the dregs of the public school system for an effective charter school operated by a nonprofit; and created a network of providers that could serve juveniles who were not locked up or who were coming home from being locked up.

The reform process has been far a walk in the park, and we hear that progress with the community services network continues to be a problem. The report on progress thus far has two significant pieces of value for reformers in other places:

-It really sells the idea that foundations and other grant makers were involved in each piece of the puzzle. One foundation paid for the commission that set the blueprint for reform; others seeded advocacy work and invested in direct services for youth; and still others funded technical assistance and capacity building.

Any one of those investments would appear nice and helpful. Put together, it’s hard to imagine the city would have carried the reforms forward without the philanthropic investments, especially when you factor in the municipal budget woes.

-A number of veteran juvenile justice funders were involved, but there were several local foundations involved that had little or no history of juvenile justice grant making. So a policy maker or advocate looking for juvenile justice reform support in some other state can show “Notorious to Notable” to a funder and say, “Most of these guys don’t do juvenile justice either, but they made an exception and it had a big impact.”

Click here to read the report online.

***Somewhat tangential to this: We reported right before Turkey Day on the new campaign to accomplish an old objective: Making the case for professionalizing youth work through credentials and certifications. Click here to read the story about ProYouthWork America, which is led by the ubiquitous Kristen Truffa. 

The most straight-line way for philanthropy to help cities like D.C. improve the network of juvenile justice providers in the community is to simply fund those providers. Another route is to fund one organization that could train youth workers at all of the cities providers.

Wouldn’t a city agree to make credentials from that organization mandatory if a foundation was willing to foot the bill for the training?

***The Obama Administration got out in front of a report released yesterday by the Government Accountability Office showing thousands of foster children in five states were prescribed psychotropic drugs.

Before Thanksgiving, three top officials at the Department of Health and Human Services sent a letter to states informing them that the agency wanted to know more about what states were doing to monitor and control usage of psychiatric drugs with foster youths. Federal regulation might come next; click here to read Youth Today’s coverage of this. 

We point this all out because our own research indicates to us that the use of psychiatric medications with juvenile justice wards should be every bit as alarming as the use if these drugs with child welfare wards. A Youth Today investigation of juvenile facilities’ use of anti-psychotic medications – a particularly potent type of psychiatric drug - found most states did little to monitor usage. In the five states that could provide prescription and diagnosis information, there were a total of 5,200 prescriptions in one year, and 70 percent were filled for conditions other than bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.

In fact, the situation with juveniles should perhaps be of greater concern.

There is a one-word explanation for why foster youth are so frequently given the psychiatric drugs: Medicaid, which pays for the vast majority of the drugs given to these kids. Youths who are adjudicated and locked up for their offenses are categorically ineligible for Medicaid support of any kind while they are inside.

So with foster youth, it is possible that over-reliance on psychotropics is a matter of cost-effective convenience. With incarcerated juveniles, passing the expense off to Medicaid isn’t an option, so states really have to be motivated to medicate. The question many have is over said motivation: Is it treatment, or sedation?

Regulating prescriptions for foster children, if that is something HHS chooses to pursue, is eminently possible because the agency provides so much of the money for state foster care operations (through Title IV-E) and Medicaid programs. It would be difficult for the federal government to regulate psychotropic use in juvenile justice because federal Medicaid spending is forbidden in locked facilities and the federal contribution to state juvenile justice funds is growing tinier by the year.

***There are 414 days left in the presidential term of Barack Obama, and there is still no nominee to serve as administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Could it be Karen Mathis, who is leaving her post as CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America on Dec. 23 after two-and-a-half years? The safe money is on nobody getting nominated before the next election, but here’s the case for Mathis:

-BBBSA made no formal announcement about her departure, she’s leaving the job Dec. 23, is not at the office until Dec. 12, and nobody on her staff has a clue what her next move is.

-Mathis used to be president of the American Bar Association. Laurie Robinson, who currently heads the Office of Justice Programs, also has ABA ties: She was director of the American Bar Association's Section of Criminal Justice for 14 years.

-Mathis has helped BBBSA secure just north of $21 million in grants from OJJDP for mentoring in the past two years.

So there’s some familiarity between Mathis, the agency and her would-be boss Robinson. It’s hard to see that pick warming the cockles of any juvenile justice practitioners; not because of Mathis personally, but because it is another elevation of mentoring over the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act aspect of OJJDP.