Family Fun Day A Milestone Event - August 28, 2017
On Sunday, August 27th, DJJ relaunched an old tradition, hosting the first Family Day at Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center in at least five years.
Governor Terry McAuliffe and First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe were on hand, along with Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran, former DJJ residents who came back to share their success stories, and more than 300 family members who traveled from as far away as Dallas, TX, to celebrate a new direction for our agency, and their futures.
Unlike typical visitation days, the Family Day provided the opportunity for the families to be outside with their kids, play games, eat together, and have a little fun. They played cornhole, watched sack races, strolled the grounds and got to know the staff members that have been working with their children.
Governor McAuliffe, whose support of our transformation effort has been so instrumental to its success, thoroughly enjoyed watching residents present musical numbers, including two songs from “Hamilton,” and sharp and evocative poetry they had written. He spoke about the outstanding work of the DJJ staff, whose professionalism and dedication through the last three years of culture change is having profound results with the young people in our system. He reminded us all that everyone makes mistakes, sometimes big ones … but that everyone deserves a second chance.
The day also featured presentations from youth who were previously confined at either Beaumont or Bon Air. Their words were particularly inspiring: JM said that the best way he could pay back all the staff who supported him during his commitment was to be successful. DB told of his plans to become a social worker, the best way he could think of to help other young people avoid what he went through.
This day would not have happened except for the hard work of all of our staff who have done so much for the last three years to get us to this moment, and who, in many cases, gave up their Sundays, or came in to work overtime, to make the day successful. The Bon Air team was out in force, with smiles on their faces, doing all they could to make sure everyone had fun and stayed safe. In addition, we had over 100 volunteers from our Court Service Units, central office, and our education team, who also came to Bon Air to lend a hand.
Chesterfield County Sheriff Department, Hanover County Sheriff Department, and Richmond Police Department, Virginia State Police and the Forest View Volunteer Rescue Squad attended with information tables and were available to help those present learn more about their work with their communities. And our friends at the Annie E. Casey Foundation helped provide food for the families as well as coolers for them to use when they travel on buses to and from future visitation days.
I suspect that this was the largest gathering of staff from across the various divisions in years, if not ever, and was certainly the largest gathering of our staff at an event where we were serving families and youth. Their time and effort were reminders of how lucky we are to have them, and how their work is as much about heart as it is about a paycheck.
Family Day was an appropriate name for the event. It represented all that we are doing to strengthen and engage the families of the youth we serve. Watching the sea of blue-shirted staff from across the agency smiling and laughing, and working together, also made it clear that we at DJJ are a family, too.
For a great story about the day from the Richmond Times-Dispatch, please click on the link below.
As many of you know, Virginia's juvenile justice system is challenged by the issue of racial and ethnic disparities and, in particular, the disparate and disproportionately high number of African-American children whose overrepresentation only grows more severe with each step deeper into the system. While black youth make up approximately 20 percent of Virginia’s youth population, they account for more than 50 percent of all intakes, and more than 70 percent of our direct care admissions.
These disparities impact real people and raise legitimate questions about the fairness of our system and whether all people are receiving equal treatment under the law. The crisis of racial and ethnic disparities in our juvenile justice system is not new, nor is it unique to Virginia or to the juvenile justice system. For example, the Virginia Department of Education’s Discipline, Crime and Violence report from 2014-15 showed that, while black students represented 23 percent of Virginia’s total student enrollment, they accounted for 53 percent of short-term suspensions, 60 percent of long-term suspensions, and 52 percent of expulsions.
This is a problem that is easier to identify than to solve, and one that defies easy solutions. The contributing factors are many, the issues challenging, and the people and agencies that must work together to take it on are numerous.
DJJ is working to address the problem of racial and ethnic disparities, and I am eager to collaborate with you as we move forward on this critical issue.
The work of our transformation, including developing a statewide continuum of services and alternative placements, focusing on the use of our data-driven structured decision making tools, modifying our Length of Stay system, and encouraging the appropriate use of diversions, will help address these issues. But we also know that an intentional and specific work plan is required.
Our agency recently partnered with the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services to hold a two-day learning opportunity focused on racial and ethnic disparities (REDs) in the justice system. Stakeholders, including social workers, law enforcement, and school officials from eight different localities across the Commonwealth, gathered with DJJ staff to talk about fairness – or the lack thereof – why it is important and, most specifically, strategies we must consider and develop to insure that our juvenile justice system in Virginia is as fair as it can possibly be.
Tiana Davis and Roxana Matiella from the Center for Children’s Law and Policy, a national organization focused on juvenile justice reform including the problems of racial and ethnic disparities, led this training and conference. The goal of the gathering was intended to:
Some of the topics they covered included how to engage constructively about the traditionally uncomfortable subject of race; implicit bias; using data strategically to drive reform efforts; and reducing disparities at intake and disposition.
The local teams then engaged in strategic planning for local RED reforms that they could bring back to their communities and implement. Action plans included providing equity training in communities, using data to drive local reform, and establishing partnerships to promote and enhance equity in all local systems. Participants stated that they valued the forum where they could “openly discuss issues of race,” adding that “the open dialogue was very helpful. It allowed us to address issues in a respectful manner, but also gather perspective.” Another pointed out that seeing the raw data on implicit biases “helped take the emotion out of the discussion,” helping instead to focus on disparities.
This conference is the first step of the work ahead. We will begin laying out a series of steps and recommendations to move us forward in the coming months.
While this work will require difficult but crucial conversations, I know you will agree that we all need to make certain that every child who comes into Virginia’s juvenile justice system needs to be treated as effectively and fairly as possible.
Thank you in advance for your support of these efforts.
As DJJ completes the second year of its transformation effort, I wanted to take a moment to look back on the significant progress we made in 2016 and to thank all of our employees, partners, and other stakeholders for their remarkable contributions toward making it happen.
A key element of our success was due to the leadership of Governor McAuliffe and the Virginia General Assembly who agreed to grant us the authority to (i) reinvest savings from the downsizing of our facilities into savings into the development of a statewide continuum of evidence-based services and alternative placements and (ii) approve a bond package that will allow us to construct a new, small, state-of-the-art juvenile correctional center to serve the many youth who are committed to DJJ from the Hampton Roads region.
Those larger structural changes were only part of the 2016 story. On a day-to-day basis, our staff worked with many partners and stakeholders to accomplish great things, including:
I have been privileged as DJJ’s Director to work with so many people from across the Commonwealth who dedicate themselves, on a daily basis, to improving outcomes for the children, families, and communities they serve. From our dedicated employees, to elected officials, to local community partners, to the families and youth themselves, you are all playing a critical role in our work and the lives of the young people in our system. Our transformation is a shared effort and we could not be doing what we are doing without this hard work, support, and collaboration. Thank you!
I am very pleased to announce that DJJ has achieved a major milestone in its transformation effort with the awarding of contracts to two experienced service coordination agencies whose job it will be to develop a statewide continuum of evidence-based treatment services and community-based alternatives to placement in a Juvenile Correctional Center (JCC).
Too often, we hear stories of youth who are unable to get the services they need simply because of where they happen to live. We also see young people come to our JCCs who might have been better served in their communities had the right blend of evidence-based programs or alternative placements been available.
The partnership we have now forged with Evidence-Based Associates (EBA) out of Washington, D.C., and AMIkids (AMI) out of Tampa, FL, will help us eliminate “justice by geography” and insure that when young people get into trouble, they will have equal access to the right kind of help when and where they need it.
The key responsibilities of EBA and AMI will be to develop a statewide continuum of placements and services by insuring, either through partnering with existing providers or bringing in new services to fill existing treatment gaps, that court involved youth in each region of Virginia have access to services such as assessments and evaluations, individual and group-based clinical services, family focused interventions (including Functional-Family Therapy or Multi-Systemic therapy), individual and group-based cognitive skills training, residential services and monitoring services (surveillance, electronic monitoring, GPS). These two regional service coordinators will centralize referrals and billing, and report on performance outcomes.
EBA, which will be responsible for the northern, central and western regions of Virginia, has deep experience in managing behavioral health care and providing technical assistance to states and local communities, especially in the implementation of evidence-based practices. AMI dedicates itself to helping troubled youth develop into responsible and productive citizens by ensuring that they receive quality services to include education, mental health, substance abuse counseling, foster care/group homes, and an array of family services. They will be responsible for Virginia’s central and eastern regions.
Nothing will happen overnight, but we are excited to get started. We expect that the remainder of this calendar year will be spent developing the infrastructure to begin the initial phase of service provision in the new year. As we harvest more and more savings from our facility downsizing we will be able to increase the availability of services.
In the meantime, please be on the lookout for meetings and focus groups as AMI and EBA come to your region to learn more about the service needs and assets in your community.
To truly support the youth, families and communities we serve, we need to make sure that each court and each community across the Commonwealth has access to the right tools and supports. The alternative placements and evidence-based services we develop through these contracts will mean fewer young people committed to state custody, and safer and stronger communities.
Click here to read Gov. McAuliffe’s press release announcing the contract awards.
All DJJ stakeholders, ranging from the youth and families we serve, Virginia taxpayers, and the DJJ employees who are making it happen can take a strong measure of pride in the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s (AECF) presentation at the Juvenile Correctional Center Task Force’s recent meeting. This report detailed the significant progress our agency has made in our transformation process since the Casey Foundation completed its first assessment of it in late 2014. While we realize that there is still a great deal of work to do before our transformation could be considered complete, this report nonetheless serves as a useful tool that allows us to step back and take stock of the amazing work of our staff and the truly positive changes that we are working together to make. A few report highlights:
While we remain grateful for the ongoing partnership with the Casey Foundation, which, at our request, is not only helping us further analyze our work but continuing to provide technical assistance on various critical initiatives, as DJJ Director I know that none of these changes could have taken place without the talent and dedication of our DJJ staff who work with our youth every day, or who support those who do. I wish to once again thank them for what they have achieved for our youth, our families and our communities. To see the entire presentation please click HERE.
The transformation of our system is about more than structural change. It is also about practice change, teamwork, and collaboration.
We took a big step forward in all of these areas on June 29-30 in Portsmouth with the gathering of more than 300 DJJ staff and partners from throughout the Commonwealth for our first-ever Reentry Summit.
The summit was made possible with a large federal grant for which DJJ was one of only three recipients nationwide, and comes at a time when the agency was recently notified that it has an opportunity for a third round of funding. A range of experts and DJJ staff presented on topics such as the new reentry manual, changing our system with evidence and a focus on outcomes, successfully transitioning youth to community schools, and helping youth develop personal action plans for when they return to their communities. There also was a plenary panel featuring youth from Community Treatment Model units at Beaumont and Bon Air, and another panel featuring two formerly committed youth who talked about their experiences, thanked the DJJ staff members who helped them, and offered suggestions for how to better serve other court-involved youth.
Reentry is a key component of DJJ’s transformation. The presentations and workshops concentrated on ways we could strengthen the reentry of court-involved youth to the community through increased use of evidence-based practices, family engagement, and local programs designed to keep youth on the right track and away from further offending. But this summit was much more than that. By bringing together employees from all disciplines in our agency, it also was about strengthening our relationships across the Department. The staff who work at our Court Service Units all around Virginia had the valuable opportunity to work alongside their colleagues who work with our youth in the juvenile correctional centers (JCCs) and share and formulate common ideas and goals. Witnessing, through the presentations of the residents from the JCCs, the great work that our staff are doing only reinforced opportunities for positive outcomes that we have when we all work together.
While I want to take a moment to congratulate Reentry Program Manager Ashaki McNeil for putting together the first of what will be an annual event that will help keep us moving forward toward ever-better outcomes for the youth, families and communities we serve, I also want to thank our procurement and budget teams along with other DJJ Support Staff for helping Ashaki pull together a great event in a very short period of time. Thanks to everyone!
As DJJ continues its journey toward increasing family engagement, we constantly look for ways to support families while their child is committed to one of DJJ’s facilities. We have heard from the youth in the Juvenile Correctional Centers (JCCs) and their families how frustrating it can be to want to visit your child but can’t due to distance and lack of resources.
I am excited to announce that this is no longer a barrier. On May 22, DJJ’s Transportation Program began transporting families from various points throughout the state to Beaumont and Bon Air JCCs at no cost to families. DJJ has partnered with Assisting Families of Inmates and James River and VanGo transportation companies to provide clean, modern transportation operated by professional, courteous drivers every other Sunday.
James River and VanGo will pick up from the following Court Service Units (CSUs): Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Newport News, Hampton, Richmond, Chesterfield, Henrico, Roanoke, Danville, Manassas and Woodbridge. You do not have to live in one of these areas, however: This opportunity is available for all families. To find out how to participate, families can contact their child’s probation officer. Click HERE for information on transportation serving your region.
Continued support and involvement from a family member is one of the most critical elements to ensuring successful treatment and reentry of a youth. As we continue our transformation, we will find more ways to build meaningful partnerships with families and provide support throughout this stressful and difficult time.
Thank you to the CSU staff who will be working additional hours to ensure our families board safely and the JCC staff who will be on site to greet our families as they arrive. They are dedicated to improving the lives of youth committed to DJJ.
For the first time in many years, the leadership of all 34 of DJJ’s Court Service Units (CSU) from every corner of the Commonwealth were gathered in one place April 21-22 to participate in an exciting two-day session entitled “CSU Leadership Transformation Summit.” As our transformation progresses, it is becoming increasingly important that team members at all levels of our organization are engaged in consistent, evidence-based, data-driven methods and decision-making. This summit provided tools and strategies to CSU leadership to bring back to their staffs.
The key theme we concentrated on was “The right youth, the right interventions at the right time equals success.” An outstanding slate of presenters, including DJJ staff members and special invited guests, provided powerful information on topics that included effective intake practices, reentry system reform, the significance of cultural competence and culturally responsive practices, and a look at how the Community Treatment Model is progressing at DJJ’s juvenile correctional centers. Special guests included Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran, Tracey Wells-Huggins of Justice For Families, and Mike Collins of Justice System Partners, who introduced attendees to the Justice Transformation Institute (JTI). The Institute prepares supervisors to effectively and efficiently implement and sustain organizational change.
We thank the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Court Service Unit Directors Association, Justice for Families and Justice System Partners, not to mention our outstanding DJJ staff, for making the summit a memorable one. Click HERE to see a gallery of photos from the event.
We have redesigned our website to ensure that whether you work for the Department, are the parent of a young person in our system, or an interested community member, you are able to find what you need. Your feedback is welcome as we continue to make improvements.
Some of the new features you will find include:
We also want you to know more about the exciting transformation within the Department of Juvenile Justice where we are taking steps across our system to use data and research to get the best outcomes for the youth, families and communities we serve. While providing accountability and rigorous rehabilitation at appropriate and individualized levels to each young person in our system, we also want to make sure that we are providing them with the building blocks to positively develop as young adults and law- abiding citizens.
The cornerstones of positive youth development are a sense of safety (whether in the community, in a facility, or at home); connection to family, a positive community, and adults who care; engagement in activities and services that add purpose to life and future; and a sense of fairness in the system – that is that similarly situated youth get treated in similar fashion by us, by law enforcement, and by the judicial system.
We encourage you to check back regularly to get an update on our transformation efforts. We are converting from what has been a more traditional juvenile corrections model to what we are calling the Community Treatment Model in which interdisciplinary teams of DJJ staff are dedicated to providing smaller, consistent groups of JCC residents with treatment, accountability, and support throughout their time with us.
Thank you for your interest in the work of the Department.