Lawmakers See More Room for Juvenile Justice Tweaks
By Kaitlyn Budion
State House News Service
BOSTON -- In a crowded room that perhaps reflected the level of interest in the problem, advocates, legislators and state officials outlined ideas to help state government develop a more cohesive and unified approach to help children in the juvenile justice system and their families.
Judge Baker Children’s Center, a Boston-based non-profit and affiliate of Harvard Medical School, hosted the forum last week to discuss the juvenile justice system and the organization’s report, “Promoting Positive Outcomes for Justice-Involved Youth: Implications for Policy, Systems and Practice.” The center focuses on the mental health needs of children and evidence-based practicies and treatments.
The report found children who have adverse childhood experiences, like having an unstable home or abuse, are more likely to end up in the justice system. Experiencing abuse or neglect can increase the chance of arrest as a juvenile by 53 percent, arrest as an adult by 38 percent and arrest for a violent crime by 38 percent.
“Research on adverse childhood experiences, or ACES, suggests that early identification and intervention with children who experience adversity can serve to mitigate future problems, support positive development and even build resilience,” said Christopher Bellonci, the vice president of policy and practice at the center.
Rep. Kay Khan and Sen. Sal DiDomenico partnered with the center for the event, and spoke on a panel.
The report recommended that the state create a unified care system that is youth-centered, family-focused, community-based, culturally responsive and minimally intrusive. With that, the state must develop practices that prioritize keeping kids in their homes and communities, implement a model of evidence-based supports for children and their families and then monitor the results, sharing that data with other organizations.
“To achieve these goals we must develop financial strategies and incentives to implement, support and sustain these recommendations, in order to create long-term sustainable cross-systems models for effectively working with justice involved youth,” Bellonci said.
Report co-author Robert Kinsherff discussed the improvements already made in the juvenile justice system, and fellow co-author Karli Keator talked about collaboration between programs, in sharing data and strategies, as well as finding ways to work with kids before they make contact with police and the court system.
“We know what works -- there is a lot of research out there now on what interventions are effective for what youth at what point in time,” she said. “Identifying needs and then actually matching kids to the right services at the right time, in their home, in their community, involving their families, that’s where we are going to see not only the greatest outcomes for youth and families but also cost savings in the long run.”
Mireya Watson, a project coordinator at Parent Professional Advocacy League, spoke about her experience as a parent, dealing with her teenage daughter in the juvenile justice system. She didn’t know her options and felt judged by the people she went to for help. “I was scared and I didn’t know what to do,” she said.
The panel also included Massachusetts Juvenile Court Department Chief Justice Amy Nechtem, Department of Youth Services Commissioner Peter Forbes, Supervisor of the Juvenile Court Department for the Probation Services John Millett, as well as Christine Judd and Chris Moss from Roca Inc.
Khan discussed bills she has sponsored that she feels will help address problems in the juvenile justice system, including proposals expanding upon expungement and recidivism reduction changes made in a 2018 law.
“One of my top priorities in the State House is our youth, our young people,” DiDomenico said. “You give them every opportunity to succeed, you give them every opportunity to have what they rightly deserve. And any child, or any youth, in our juvenile justice system we have failed them at some point in their life. Because we are living in a state and a country where we should not have any young people in that situation. And it is our responsibility to fix that.”