Questions and Answers From Symposium On Breaking The Cycle Of Delinquency

A number of questions were submitted by attendees at the October 17, 2017 symposium which time did not allow panelists to answer. Below are those questions and responses. As the center is still in its development stage, these responses are a work in progress. (Please note that several terms are used interchangeably in these questions to refer to the proposed assessment center, including juvenile assessment center (JAC), youth assessment center (YAC), and youth assessment resource center (YARC). A name for the center is not yet determined.

Assessment Center Structure/Purpose

1. Will there be a restorative justice component?

Yes, restorative justice is viewed as an integral part of the tools to hold children accountable for their actions as it helps them to understand the impact of those actions on other people. Restorative justice programs are evidence-based with a strong track record of success. Currently, for example, Juvenile Court utilizes such a program through their Youth Court with approximately a 97% success rate (youth who do not show up again in Juvenile Court for a new incident). A program such as this or other restorative justice programs could be a good fit for the center.

2. Will monitoring be returned as a preventive measure?

If this question refers to electronic monitoring, Juvenile Court will likely continue to have this available as a tool. It is not anticipated that electronic monitoring would be part of a youth assessment center, as the center is designed to help youth with underlying issues and be accountable for their actions through non-judicial means.

3. What are alternatives to detention for first time offenders?

The purpose of the center is to be the alternative in appropriate cases to ANY involvement with Juvenile Court, not just detention. The whole point is to address underlying issues impacting youths’ behaviors and help them avoid entering the system altogether. Once in the Juvenile Court system, the court employs a scoring tool to determine if a child needs to be placed in detention, called the DAT (Detention Assessment Tool) score. Even if the child is not a first time offender, the child might not have a high enough DAT score to warrant placement in detention. The number of children held in detention has dropped substantially over the past few years. Alternatives include release to family, electronic monitoring, and other options.

4. Where will the assessment center be located?

This program is similar to what Memphis City Schools had from 2000-2005 with wrap around services for truant students. (Partnered with CSA, DCS, Juvenile Court, etc.) It was a great program until politics got in the way. The location for the center is not yet set in stone. It is possible that the pilot version of this center will be in one location and a new location will be needed as the program is rolled out to the county as a whole. There are various options under consideration. One important point: the center will NOT be located at the Juvenile Court facility nor will it be located at any law enforcement or court facility. If you have a suggestion for a location, please feel free to share it by contacting us through the website or calling.

5. Who developed the list of eligible and ineligible offenses for the assessment center? What was the basis for the lists?

The list was developed by the Juvenile Court with Judge Dan Michael’s approval. The basis for this list was similar to those offenses which are eligible for diversion programs. This is still a work in progress. In fact, not every offense under Tennessee law is on the list provided in the symposium materials.

6. The language (at the symposium) describes a fait accompli although there have been several statements about this being a work in progress. Is there room for this to be found insufficient and brought to a halt in favor of something that is better designed to address root causes?

The center is not being held out as THE solution to all problems of our youth. Many of these issues need to be addressed at the earliest ages, even at the pre-natal stage and certainly in those early formative years. There are great organizations in Memphis and Shelby County already doing work around the needs of the very young child and their families. Any efforts to expand those programs and research are applauded and can only serve to help the community. However, right now, today, there are youth committing crimes and entering the justice system. Every day. The work on root causes has bypassed them unfortunately, and they need help now where they are as of now. The community also needs to have relief from the results of their criminal activities. This assessment center is an augmentation of the work of those organizations, not a substitute. It is anticipated that the center staff will seek the expertise of those in child development in determining best options for youth who have now come to the attention of the justice system or whose families or teachers believe an intervention is now necessary to avoid their entry into the justice system. This is why The Center for Health in Justice-Involved Youth (CHJIY) of the University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center is an integral part of this assessment center. Dr. Altha Stewart, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at UTHSC College of Medicine, who is the director of the CHJIY, has been part of the development of this plan from its earliest days. Dr. David Stern, the Robert Kaplan Executive Dean and Vice-Chancellor for Clinical Affairs for the University of Tennessee's College of Medicine, has joined with Dr. Stewart in active support of this endeavor.

7. It appears that this process began with the wrong questions. If we know there are deep ACEs and ongoing trauma, if we know that we lack an environment that develops youth positively, it would seem the question of how to address these things would not lead to law enforcement but to investments in youth development and services. How did the JAC become the answer to challenges that have nothing to do with law enforcement?

We agree, based on research, that ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) and trauma strongly impact behaviors leading to interactions with law enforcement and then the juvenile justice system. But many youth are already at the point of touching the justice system. (See response to question 6, above.) The efforts to address ACEs and trauma must continue. This effort to create better outcomes for those already engaging or on the verge of engaging in criminal behaviors in no way impedes the necessary work being done in this community related to ACEs and trauma. The ACE Awareness Foundation has also been involved in the development of this center. One important element being considered is to ensure that contact with the center will not, itself, create yet one more trauma in a child’s life. We know that contact with the justice system can be one such trauma, and contact with the justice system is itself a risk factor for ongoing criminal behaviors leading to involvement with the adult system later in life; this assessment center is being developed in part to create a buffer from that trauma.

8. We need to detain children “who scare you-who are dangerous.” Did you catch this line?

This statement might more correctly have been limited to those who are dangerous. Being scared of a person is a more subjective state. The purpose of the assessment center, however, is to work with youth well before this stage and to prevent this from occurring.

9. How can an assessment center be structured to minimize the trauma that comes with coercive services and over-exposure to law enforcement?

This is a good question and one that will be at the forefront as the center is designed both physically and with the provision of services. While it is true that some youth will end up transported to the center who otherwise might have simply been released following commission of a crime, we would argue this is not over-exposure to law enforcement because the center to which they will be transported will not be associated or governed by the law enforcement or court hierarchy. Instead, it will seek to help youth and families address their underlying issues and employ restorative justice practices to help youth be accountable for their actions. These methods have been shown to be very effective.

10. How do we implement what’s discussed today when we have a U.S. Attorney General that’s directing states to simply lock everyone up? Even non-violent offenders.

Shelby County and the City of Memphis are responsible for the implementation of justice at the local level. The city and county mayors, the police director, the Shelby County sheriff, and the District Attorney are all committed to implementing this plan of action to bring a more holistic approach to working with youth. It should be noted that the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office has also regularly participated in the working group.

11. Consider doing several focus groups with children and families about the name of the center. How much training will law enforcement receive re: JAC procedures; proper way to use LEAP and DAT?

We can add this question regarding a name for the center to the agenda for the community meetings planned in the coming months. Thanks, great idea! Law enforcement already receives ongoing training on the LEAP and DAT score processes, and this would certainly continue on a routine basis once the assessment center is up and running. As the center continues to move towards operation, it is anticipated that both the Memphis Police Department and Shelby County Sheriff’s Office will undergo a series of trainings regarding transport of youth. There will likely be a pilot phase-in of the center in a specific geographic area and, therefore, training might begin at a specific precinct prior to countywide launch.

12. What happens once these children are screened and pass the threshold of time of which they will return to their homes? How can we ensure that families will not hinder the progress that the children have made?

First, the assessment center is not a place that children stay. It is not detention. It is not going to have a dormitory, at least not as so far planned. It is a triage, screening hub where some services may be co-located. One of the hallmarks of this program is that the family will also be engaged. Although another person asked the question if a child could seek the services independently if his or her family said no (see question 16, below), the ideal is that the family as a whole engages in the process to avoid this very concern. That said, families are not always the support their children need. This is another reason having mentors for children is so important. The success of the youth assessment center will rest, in large part, on having a ready, willing, and able stable of dedicated, caring adults ready to assume a mentorship role immediately upon the need being identified at the center.

13. What is being done about Shelby County being the only County that does not seal juvenile records at age 18 in Tennessee?

This is a question that should be directed to Juvenile Court. It does not relate to the operation of an assessment center, as one result of a youth’s successful involvement with the center is avoidance of the creation of any “juvenile record.”

Services for Juveniles and Families

14. What are options for offenders to obtain a GED if expelled from school?

Center personnel will be responsible to help youth fill some of the gaps in their lives. If education completion is one of them, referrals can be made to local organizations helping individuals complete their GED or other educational goals, or pursue technical training certificates.

15. Can we partner with organizations that appeal to youth and have them volunteer to gain constructive skills to help obtain jobs later in life?

Any organization that meets standards for quality of service provided, delivery of services promised, and proper use of funds (full qualifications for participating agencies are yet to be determined) is welcome to let us know what they have to offer. We expect to create an interactive map of appropriate service providers/organizations so that best fits for youth and their families can be made, both in type of service as well as geographic accessibility.

16. Does the child have the ability to accept services without parental consent?

Good question. Under the court system, a child seeking services without parent or guardian permission may be assigned a “guardian ad litem” who is a lawyer focused on representing the child’s interests only. A similar mechanism may need to be employed to help a child receive services if a responsible adult does not agree the services are necessary or beneficial. Exactly how this would be implemented may require exploration in the absence of an open court case, as is the purpose of the assessment center.

17. Services are at the Y.A.C. once the youth is or has accepted the services. Transportation--is it available?

While some services may be co-located at the center, it is the intention to have service providers throughout the community to reduce transportation issues for families. As the center will go through a pilot phase before being implemented county-wide, we will seek initially to find providers who focus their services on any pilot geographic area. See also the responses to questions 15, above and 24, below.

18. How will YARC work with other institutions providing mental health assessments for targeted youth?

This is an operational question that is not yet fully resolved. In general, like the need for other services, the center will serve as a referring hub for individuals in need of mental health assessments and will contract with qualified institutions or individuals who can provide these assessments. There may also be a qualified individual on staff at the center but that has not yet been resolved, as stated above. If not in the initial pilot phase, this is seen as an important element of service provision as the center becomes fully operational.

19. How will JAC assist parents with underlying issues of not making it to services? (Transportation, money, trust)

First, see the response to question 17, above. A map of service providers will be created to help find services in the best geographic area to cut down on transportation issues. Additionally, services that are recommended/required as part of the assessment center plan will not be denied on the basis of a family’s inability to pay for those required services. Sometimes this will be achieved through use of a family’s established health insurance; other services may require funding be provided without charge to the family. This is an area that will continue to be developed as community service partners are recruited to help with center youth and families.

Trust is something that is earned. It is hoped that the physical environment of the center, the caring staff, and the removal from the court system will all help to move families towards a feeling of trust.

20. What do culturally-based wrap-around services look like? Please give an example of what a child of color would need as a value that would not be the same for white youth? (e.g.: strong identity support, rites of passage-culturally directed youth development, “family friendly”)

The major “difference” would be the incorporation of specific cultural aspects of engagement of and interaction with the child and family based on their cultural norms, not imposing a “one size” model, practice or structure on them and blaming them when it “doesn’t work.” Cultural competence in programs and understanding the role of implicit bias in how systems respond to persons of color is an essential element to providing culturally appropriate wraparound for children of color and their families. Typically, systems of care are based on white norms, and everyone else has to fit into that mold when actually culturally competent programs benefit everyone. Children of color also need professionals with sensitivity and understanding about historical trauma. Stigma related to health care and justice system interventions of all kinds is connected to real experiences. The healthy suspicions of systems and the people who represent them is to be respected as professionals sincerely acknowledge strengths from the immediate family, extended family and community family make sure they are included in assessment and plan.

21. Where do parents get mental health assistance for their child if they don’t have insurance to cover this care?

Funding sources will be explored to ensure every child can receive exactly what is recommended for their needs.

22. Opportunity for and involvement in leadership programs often positively shifts how youth see themselves in relations to their potential and involvement in their community. How can youth with mental illnesses be intentionally engaged with leadership opportunity?

Bridges representatives have been involved in the planning process for the assessment center. This is a good question for our partners at UTHSC and Bridges to discuss.

Community Engagement

23. There are too many suits here. Not enough common people like me. Blue Collar.

We appreciate this feedback. The purpose of the symposium was to introduce the concept of the center to many anticipated partners whose expertise will be needed to make it a success for our youth. Subsequent to the symposium, a series of public meetings is planned to bring concerned citizens into the process (one meeting has already been held). As stated at the symposium, the center’s plans are still in the planning stage, and we anticipate bringing suggestions from the public to bear. We are specifically working to obtain feedback and suggestions from youth, particularly those who have experienced the justice system first-hand.

24. What kind of partnerships with the community are foreseen?

This question was asked in several different forms by various attendees. The center staff will look to the children and families to ask what type of help they feel they need. Assessments may also be conducted. Children and families may need a wide range of services, from help with school uniforms, government benefits, mental health counseling/therapies for individuals and/or families, substance abuse, domestic violence, undiagnosed learning disabilities, and bullying, to gang intervention, just to name a few. The center is designed, ideally, to be holistic in its approach to the child and family.

25. Someone who may be interested in mentoring may not have resources to introduce youth to various outings or multi-cultural events. Has there been any discussion of partners/contributors to help assist with this effort?

This is a great point. Much work is being done to ensure that mentors are available for those youth/families in need of one. We are working with organizations such as the Rotary Club, with chapters all over the area, for example, to help create and organize a mentor system. As the project continues to evolve, your suggested scenario would be a great example of a fundraising opportunity, as it is very important to draw mentors from the communities in which our youth reside, including those mentors who might not have the resources to fund enrichment opportunities.

26. How can faith communities more effectively participate in the human services component of a youth assessment and resource center?

If a faith organization has a program designed to help with the needs of youth and/or their families, they are welcome to let us know what they can do. Subject to some qualifying requirements for all organizations connected with the assessment center, we want to have as many options for help throughout the county as possible. If they are interested but do not yet possess the skills in human services to provide such help, they might work to partner with organizations that do have those skills and also encourage their members to participate as mentors. This will be a key need of the center, to have mentors available throughout the county.

27. Will there be an opportunity for others to join the workgroup, such as workforce development, faith based reps, neighborhood organizations and youth?

As the plan continues to move forward, more community meetings will take place providing opportunities for input. If someone has an interest in joining the working group and articulates a critical missing component to help move the project forward, their participation will be considered. In working groups, one key element is to avoid having them become too large and unwieldy, so the group cannot accommodate every request.

28. Why didn’t you have at risk youth on a panel to explain to this crowd what their issues truly are?

The symposium included two youth who had been through the juvenile court system in alternative programs, talking about how these alternatives helped them move forward. One spoke live at the meeting and the other spoke by telephone as he was getting ready to report for his military training. He was represented at the symposium by his father. It is important, however, that we continue to engage youth voices and this is part of the effort in the community meetings planned over the next couple of months (and one that has already taken place since the symposium). Additionally, Bridges, a youth leadership organization, has been part of the working group for creating the plan for this assessment center. Their input will grow as we move through the coming months.

Funding

29. How much funding have Mayor Luttrell and Mayor Strickland committed to put into their budget proposals in the coming year (2018-19) for this effort?

The necessary funding commitment has been and is being discussed right now.

30. The launch of YARC will require funds as mentioned in the booklet. Has a MOA been signed with Shelby County and State to shift funds?

No Memorandum of Agreement has yet been executed. Funding commitments have been and are being discussed right now.

31. Why is funding based only on saving and outside sources? Are we willing to spend any additional money on our children?

Although the materials may have highlighted savings derived by implementation of the center which were realized in other jurisdictions, this center will cost money first. The commitment of government officials to this process is an indication of their willingness to spend money on our children, and time will tell if taxpayers are also willing to invest.