I am pleased to report that, as we wind down the fourth year of our transformation, the dedicated and talented men and women of DJJ continue to strengthen lives, and strengthen our system, on a number of fronts. Below is a brief overview of some of the highlights to date in each of our core transformation strategies.
We have focused throughout our transformation on safely reducing our use of Juvenile Correctional Centers (JCCs) for youth in our system. As of July 2018, we had a total of 210 youth at Bon Air and 331 in direct care overall. This compares favorably to the already low numbers of 231 youth who were at Bon Air a year ago and the 347 youth who were in direct care. While the pace of decline has slowed over the last two years, the measures we have put in place including the expansion of the Community Placement Program (CPP), the revised length of stay guidelines, expansion of a statewide continuum of services and supports, and ongoing probation reforms will, we are confident, continue to safely reduce the population not only of youth who are at Bon Air, but also those in our direct care overall.
In the next few weeks, DJJ will begin piloting a Standardized Dispositional Matrix in five different jurisdictions. This new structured decision-making tool will help insure that we are making the right dispositional recommendations in court, and that those recommendations are consistent – based on a youth’s risk level, treatment needs and offense history – across the Commonwealth. Once fully incorporated statewide, we expect that it, too, will help us make sure that we are providing the right interventions to the right youth at the time, further reducing our direct care population.
Since the beginning of 2015 we have focused on reforming and improving the work we do with youth who are committed to our custody. A little more than a year ago, we closed Beaumont Juvenile Correctional Center and consolidated the program with Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center. That consolidation allowed us to implement our Community Treatment Model -- a therapeutic, positive-peer culture community – in every residential unit at Bon Air. While we are continuing to work to improve quality and fidelity of our work, I am pleased to report that this full implementation has led Bon Air to have, by any metric, its safest fiscal year in terms of serious incidents, worker’s compensation claims, and investigations. The Student Government Association, created and run by Bon Air residents, is flourishing as are family engagement efforts, campus athletic programs, and other positive activities.
A critical aspect of reforming our residential work is strengthening our educational services. I am proud to report that this year, 77 students at Bon Air’s Yvonne B. Miller High School earned a Standard Diploma[BA(1] [HN(2] , an Applied Studies Diploma, a Penn Foster High School [HN(3] Diploma, or a GED® certificate, representing 91[HN(4] percent of those who were eligible to graduate … both new records. Significantly, 41 of these students earned a standard high school diploma. A Richmond-Times Dispatch reporter attended the graduation ceremony and filed an excellent story … click link below to read.
A successful and popular programs in recent years has been the Russian literature course, taught by University of Virginia professor Andy Kaufman and some of his students. The positive impact of this course was highlighted in the most recent class, in which a former Beaumont JCC resident who took Dr. Kaufman’s class returned to Bon Air to help teach the class, now as a UVa student. You can read the inspiring story done by the Washington Post by clicking on the link below.
With the closure of Beaumont, and the preceding closure of the Reception and Diagnostic Center, we have reduced our overall state bed capacity from over 600 beds to the current 270 beds at Bon Air. We have reinvested the savings realized from these closures in a statewide continuum of services and placements through contracts with two regional services coordinating agencies. The goal of this continuum is to make sure that no matter where a young person gets in trouble in the Commonwealth, that jurisdiction and court system has the right set of tools and services available to work effectively with that youth.
The infrastructure and programs we have been able to establish through our services continuum in a very short period of time are, in my humble opinion, nothing short of breathtaking. For calendar year 2017 – the first year of this work – we added 124 direct service providers throughout the Commonwealth, 26 of which were residential.
Our probation officers have been making the most of the new services, making a total of 1,528 referrals in 2017. As awareness of the new services increases so does utilization. In the first half of 2018 alone there already have been 1,478 referrals.
New programs that have begun as part of this effort include Multi-Systemic Therapy (MST), Functional Family Therapy (FFT), High Fidelity Wraparound (HFW), Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT), Boys and Girls Club Targeted Outreach, and a new workforce readiness program. Finally, for direct care and paroled youth over the age of 18, who are often hard to place due to their age, we added residential options including group homes and residential treatment facilities.
To illustrate the speed and scope of the expansion of the continuum we have provided two illustrations below. The first map shows the availability of MST or FFT at the beginning of 2017, overlaid on a map showing the various commitment rates across Virginia. The second map shows the availability of MST and FFT today. These are not the only services we are providing of course, but they are important evidence-based programs and their growth reflects the scope of our work on the continuum.
Click here to read a Richmond Times-Dispatch story illustrating the impact of this work.
We have also, despite some setbacks, continued down our path of replacing our large, old and outdated facilities with smaller, treatment-oriented centers that are, through their size and design, responsive to the treatment and educational needs of a population of complicated youth who typically have high exposure to childhood trauma, and a need for robust educational, vocational and therapeutic services.
Specifically, we received funding this most recent General Assembly session to build a 60-bed facility in Isle of Wight County which has offered to partner with us on this important project. Having youth from Hampton Roads at Isle of Wight will allow us to make sure that 100% of the youth confined there are within 60 miles from their homes. While the early planning for the facility is now underway, it will be at least three more years before construction is complete. One of the many benefits of this facility will be the proximity of youth confined there to their home communities – facilitating connection and engagement with their families, supports, and service providers.
At the outset of our transformation, we committed to sustain our efforts by maintaining safe, healthy, inclusive work places; continuing to recruit, retain, and develop a team of highly skilled and motivated staff; and aligning our procedures, policies, and resources to support the team in meeting the goals of transformation.
I am pleased to report that our work is leading toward greater, overall safety for our staff. For example, we experienced a 28 percent decrease in worker’s compensation claims from FY 2017 to FY 2018. At Bon Air JCC alone, worker’s comp claims were cut nearly in half.
An important strategy for sustaining our work has been strengthening our training program. The staff at our Training Academy has been at the center of this effort. They created a brand new training team to meet the training needs of community programs, and designed a four-week basic skills program for caseworkers. To sustain the Community Treatment Model, they rewrote the curriculum for basic skills for direct care staff. The Academy’s technology program is making it more accessible and cost-effective to train staff in evidence-based practices by designing e-learning courses through the Virginia Learning Center (VLC).
In addition to training our direct service staff, we are also training our supervisors and managers through internal leadership and management courses, as well as another core training initiative: the Justice Transformation Institute. This program, which reaches staff across all agency divisions, prepares DJJ managers to be leaders in the transformation process. To date, approximately 120 employees have received their certificates. More importantly, they have made connections with colleagues from across other divisions and across the state, sharing information, providing support, and spurring change.
Finally, we have established new guiding principles for our agency, to reflect our belief that the staff of DJJ and the youth we serve, need the same things to be successful. These guiding principles are as follows:
SAFETY -- Youth and staff need to feel safe in their environment and need a sense of physical and emotional well-being.
CONNECTION -- Youth and staff need to feel connected to supportive and caring adults, whether they are family, staff, or coworkers.
PURPOSE -- Youth and staff need to have goals to strive toward, skills to hone, and a sense that they have a valuable role to play in the lives of people and the community around them.
FAIRNESS -- Youth need to perceive their environment and interactions as fair and transparent. They need to be held accountable in a manner proportionate to their offense and offense history, and similar to other youth in their situation. Staff need to feel that they are treated fairly, compensated adequately, and supported in their efforts to meet the expectations of the department.
We are unable to do this important to work if we do not have staff. I am pleased to report that the cumulative effect of these efforts has been better retention of our amazing workforce. Specifically, as the agency’s vacancy rate has declined from 23 percent in 2016 to 8.7 percent as of June 2018.
I understand that this letter is long, but the work is extensive. We have come a long way in the last 18 months, but we know we still have more work to do. As always, we are grateful for your ongoing interest in our work. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or require additional information.