Risk-based decision making is key to juvenile services

Risk-based decision-making can make juvenile services more effective, the state’s top juvenile services official told the Greater Baltimore Committee Public Safety and Legal Affairs Committee on May 17.

The risk assessment process involves targeting high-risk youth for more services, while under intensive supervision and restrictive custody, and using less costly and restrictive sanctions with lower risk youth, said Donald W. DeVore, secretary, Maryland Department of Juvenile Services (DJS).

By identifying strengths and weaknesses, youths can be linked with appropriate services, thereby decreasing the risk of later problem behavior. “Adult crime and records come from juvenile problems,” he said.

There has been a shift away from incarceration and back to using predictive approaches based on prior research and evaluation, said DeVore.

The DJS has contact with more than 157,000 children per year, he said. It provides individualized care and treatment to youth who have violated the law, or who are a danger to themselves or others. Through a variety of programs, the department helps young people, with the involvement of their families, reach their full potential as productive and positive members of society.

DJS works with other state agencies, including the Department of Education, Department of Human Resources and Health and Mental Hygiene, and local agencies to help young people and their families.

Of all the children at the Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center, 65 percent have an identifiable mental illness, DeVore said. There is an enormous connection with the DJS children and educational deficiencies.

Using results-based accountability and public performance indicators, the goal is to create resources in Maryland over the next three years to be able to treat all children in Maryland. In addition, DJS plans to build community capacity through groups like Operation Safe Kids, Youth Advocate Programs, Inc., and The Choice Program to utilize a strength-based approach and provide an array of services to youth and their families.

“One problem is a societal issue – kids come from unsafe neighborhoods.” School transitioning is difficult on schools and troubled children as well. They are not accepted back to school that easily. There needs to be a support system within the schools, said DeVore.

There is also a substance abuse issue that is not thoroughly addressed. Other problems lie with unstructured leisure time and having a positive adult in the children’s lives, he said. Business leaders and GBC members can help by offering young adults supervised employment opportunities, mentoring and exposure to the business community.

Joseph T. Jones, president & CEO, Center for Fathers, Families, and Workforce Development (CFWD) outlined a number of the center’s programs aimed at helping unemployed and underemployed to become productive. The programs include:

  • Workforce development and the STRIVE Baltimore program has been a key component for ex-offenders and re-entering the workforce, Jones said. STRIVE Baltimore is an intensive job readiness workshop based on an attitudinal approach. The three-week training blends self-examination, critical thinking, relationship building, affirmation and practical skills development. It also provides financial and emotional support to ex-offenders families.
  • Baltimore Building Strong Families (BBSF) program, supported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, is designed to assist couples with children between the ages of 0-3 months in developing the communication, conflict resolution, parenting, and life management skills necessary to develop and maintain healthy relationships. Research shows that children reared in households with both parents do better in school are less likely to do drugs and to become teen parents.
  • The Baltimore Responsible Fatherhood Project (BRFP) serves low-income Baltimore City fathers who are most often non-custodial parents, said Jones. It assists low-income fathers with employment, child support, recidivism, effective parenting and maintaining healthy relationships. Enrolling fathers are typically unemployed, have only a ninth grade education, have been in the criminal justice system, and have used illegal drugs in the past, he said.

The business community can help by assisting non-custodial parents, usually fathers, in avoiding criminal justice repercussions associated with child support issues by connecting those fathers to job readiness training and employment opportunities, said Jones. This will encourage child support payments and active participation in the lives of their children. 

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