Agencies: Diversity Essential to Maximizing Outreach Potential

When the National Juvenile Justice Network (NJJN) held its annual meeting three or four years ago, a representative of one of its 41 member organizations in the juvenile justice advocacy field stood up and pointed out that just about everyone in the room was white and had a professional degree. A groundswell of response and interest in addressing that issue of diversity led to the formation of the network’s Youth Justice Leadership Institute, which identifies people of color who have had personal experience with the juvenile justice system and who want to become leaders in the reform movement. At a recent gathering of fellows, 10 of whom are selected each year, the value of recruiting people from diverse perspectives and backgrounds hit home during a discussion about sentencing, said Sarah Bryer, director of NJJN. “Many folks had, within their own family, people who had been in the juvenile justice system,” she said. “When we spoke about the rubric of sentencing, they were speaking from a place of really deep knowledge about the system.

Youth Workers Essential to Helping Kids Succeed in School

When Woody Allen famously quipped that “80 percent of success is showing up,” more than a kernel of truth popped out. Because regular school attendance is tied directly to high school graduation rates, youth workers have both a role in, and a responsibility for, supporting young people on this part of their journey toward productive adulthood.  
New research is emerging almost daily about the issue of chronic absence, which is defined as missing 10 percent or more of the school year. This metric entered the national lexicon about five years ago through the good work of Ralph Smith at the Annie E. Casey Foundation and Hedy Chang of Attendance Works. Analysis of chronic absence uncovered a serious problem in schools and districts across the country — one often hidden by the more common measure of average daily attendance.

Consistency and Commitment Key to Successful Mentoring

As a broadcast journalist, Joan Thomas said that a large part of her profession entailed chronicling the worst aspects of humanity. Youth services volunteering, she said, was her way of being a part of the solution to so many of the problems she covered as a newswoman. Working with her mentee, Erica Gibson — now a computer application developer with two young children of her own — was not always easy, she remembered. “I think there will come times in a volunteer’s life when he or she might say ‘this is too much work, I can’t deal with this,’” Thomas said, recalling times when mentoring Gibson was so difficult she couldn’t even speak to the youngster. However, that connection between mentor and mentee was never in jeopardy, she said, because the two had developed a profound sense of trust. 

“Other volunteers have to know that it’s OK to say, ‘well, all right, you’re wearing out this relationship,’” Thomas added.

Two ‘Cool Girls’ Beat the Odds

“You still have all this stuff?”

Erica Gibson, a 32-year-old computer application developer consultant, cannot believe that Joan Thomas — her childhood mentor — had brought so many pieces of memorabilia with her to their latest lunch get-together. Splayed out on the table were Gibson’s old report cards, SAT scores, high school prom photos and college graduation pamphlets. Gibson was astonished when she looked at some of her now decades-old grades. “I got a ‘D’ in conduct?” she uttered. Thomas handed her former mentee a written assignment that Gibson had typed when she was 15.

How to Reduce the Risk of Secondary Trauma

Avoiding or dealing with secondary traumatic stress requires action by both individual professionals and organizations as a whole:

Engage in self care. Counterbalance hearing victims’ stories, seeing troubling photos and retelling difficult details in court with self care activities such as exercise, spiritual activities, meditation or mindfulness approaches. Learn more at or Pay attention to caseloads. Managers should ensure caseload numbers are appropriate and the type of work is varied.

Helping Can Hurt

Four years ago, a valued long-time staff member walked into Dr. Ginny Sprang’s office and announced suddenly that she was quitting. The staff member said her job, which involved reviewing and summarizing child abuse and neglect case files, was ruining her life. She was having nightmares, was overly anxious about her own children’s safety and couldn’t stop thinking about the horrific events in the case files she read each day. Dr. Sprang, the executive director of the Center on Trauma and Children and a professor in the psychiatry department at the University of Kentucky, felt terrible she had not recognized the impact secondary exposure to traumatic events was having on her staff. More that 60 percent of kids were exposed to violence, close to one-half were assaulted, and 25 percent witnessed an act of violence, according to “the most comprehensive nationwide survey of the incidence and prevalence of children’s exposure to violence to date,” the 2008 National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence, sponsored by the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

Rural America After the Recession, Part One: A Plague of an Entirely Different Kind

Photo by Jan Banning

 A lot seems to have changed over the last four years. At first, things, momentarily, appear a lot better than I thought they would. The subdivisions which buffer my folks’ neck of the woods on all sides - left and right, in front of and behind - seem to be filled with people, perhaps frugal transplants who eyed some available real estate and snatched up property at reduced prices. There is a lot of green en route to Griffin Road, from rolling pastures to the leafy tops of trees that somehow managed to survive a tornado outbreak about a year earlier. The bucolic countryside, with its almost incandescent green fields and an array of knotted and twisted oaks in the background, reminds me less of northwest Georgia and more of the landscape described by Tolkien in “The Lord of the Rings.” In some ways, I felt like Frodo Baggins returning to the Shire - after a long journey, for better and for worse, I was finally home.