Opinion

How MacArthur Builds Reform

Ned Loughran

The story about Models for Change failed to capture how MFC is building a successful and sustainable reform effort in Pennsylvania.

I’ve been a part of MFC since the very beginning. My work has focused on addressing the issues posed by the growing numbers of youths with mental health problems who are in the juvenile justice system. We have developed a collaboration model to identify youths with mental health problems, divert them if possible and, if not, provide them with effective evidence-based services.

MacArthur’s MFC is unique and successful because it allows juvenile justice experts and practitioners to meet state and local agencies where they are in the development of their juvenile justice systems. MFC focuses its investments on existing catalysts for change within the local jurisdictions that can continue the reform beyond the life of the foundation’s grants. It is not a new “flavor of the day” reform or one-time grant for something that ends when the money runs out. MFC builds leadership, vision and competencies that can sustain changes in politics, funding and system needs.

For example, as part of the work to serve youths with mental health problems in the juvenile justice system, MFC has established a high-level commitment among seven state agencies in a signed Mental Health/Juvenile Justice Joint Policy Statement. The joint policy statement establishes agreement on the components of a comprehensive and coordinated system for youths that is grounded in research and best practices and is being used to guide practitioners across the state. It also is guiding state funding and the implementation of the innovative Integrated Children’s Services Plan and Needs-based Budget process, which requires a single budget for services for children.

As part of that state-level work, the MFC-led entity in Pennsylvania, the Juvenile Law Center, worked to ensure that the system increased access to mental health screening and assessment to identify youths suitable for diversion to mental health services, while protecting the youths from self-incrimination through any information disclosed. The culmination of that work was the passage of Act 109 this fall, signed by the governor on Oct. 9, which extends self-incrimination protections for youths undergoing behavioral health screening and assessment, and resolves local concerns for youths’ confidentiality. It will lead to more youths screened and diverted from the system to more appropriate and effective services.

Ned Loughran, Executive Director
Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators
Braintree, Mass.

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