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OJJDP News @ a Glance

This issue highlights the National Missing Children’s Day commemoration, the Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the annual symposium for AMBER Alert coordinators, and a Tribal community of practice.
Message From the Administrator: When a Child Goes Missing
Action Plan - Administrator Liz Ryan

Stakeholder’s Corner: Empowering Justice-Involved Youth in East Baton Rouge

By Ryan Hill, Development Director, Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights

Stock photo of a male teenager sitting alone in a stadium’s bleachers

Joseph (a pseudonym) was just 13 when the Baton Rouge, LA, police arrested him in 2020. He’d stolen a car. At the time, Joseph was living in foster care. He wanted the car to run away—to go home. He went to a juvenile detention center instead.

When Joseph first met with Nataliyah, a social worker from the Advanced Advocacy Project, he embodied despair. Advanced Advocacy is a joint effort between the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights and the East Baton Rouge Office of the Public Defender. Most of the children we serve are African American. All are indigent—they cannot afford to hire legal representation.

We take a holistic approach to serving children like Joseph, empowering them through services that address their unique needs and allow them to remain at home, in the community. We pair each child with a dedicated multidisciplinary team: a lawyer, a social worker, and a youth advocate. Our goal is to reduce the population of incarcerated children in East Baton Rouge Parish.

Complicated factors contribute to a child’s entry in the legal system. Our team collaborates to address the causes and consequences of a child’s arrest, meeting with them to assess needs and map out an individualized plan for success. We enroll children in school, help them develop special education plans and access mental health services, and connect them with programs ranging from job training to mentoring. Children with support and stability at home and school are more likely to thrive and leave the justice system behind—for good.

OJJDP’s Enhancing Juvenile Indigent Defense grant enabled Advanced Advocacy to support two full-time social workers, growing our staff by more than 50 percent. We now serve upwards of 200 children each year. By the time we close their cases, more than 90 percent of the children we work with are enrolled in school and have not been adjudicated or convicted of a new offense.

Child arrest and incarceration rates have changed dramatically in East Baton Rouge since Advanced Advocacy’s launch. From 2018 through 2022:

  • The child incarceration rate declined by 31.8 percent—a stark contrast to the 10.7 percent increase statewide.
  • The number of children held in nonsecure state custody in East Baton Rouge decreased by 50.4 percent, more than 10 times the statewide decrease over the same period.
  • The number of children arrested in East Baton Rouge declined 23.1 percent.

While statistics reflect our program’s overall success, we are most proud of the transformation we have seen in the lives of individual children.

When we met Joseph, he said he felt like his life would never improve. Neither he nor his foster parent saw a path forward. The jail transferred Joseph to an acute mental health facility for treatment. When Joseph’s biological family learned about his situation, they said they wanted to bring him home.

Nataliyah first visited Joseph in the treatment facility. Joseph also met with Ashton, an Advanced Advocacy youth advocate. Nataliyah worked with Joseph and his family during his transition back home, and Ashton checked in with him regularly.

Once back home, Joseph began smiling more often. After a few weeks, he started to open up, telling Nataliyah and Ashton about trauma he’d endured. They connected Joseph with a community-based mental health provider, who helped him develop skills for coping when he feels angry or overwhelmed—breathing and counting exercises. Joseph also learned to express himself through writing.

When Joseph’s school said his individualized education plan was too difficult to implement, our team helped Joseph’s family understand his rights. They attended school meetings together and secured the special education support Joseph needs. Nataliyah also helped Joseph connect with a tutor. By the end of the school year, Joseph went from failing all his classes to getting almost all A’s.

Joseph returned to juvenile court in summer 2021. Happy and succeeding in school, Joseph looked different. Hopeful. When the judge returned full custody to Joseph’s biological family and terminated probation, Joseph raised his arms, beaming as he quietly cheered. Joseph said he was sad he would no longer check in so often with Nataliyah and Ashton—but he also said he never wanted to return to a courtroom. With Joseph’s coping skills and drive to do well in school, we’re confident he will continue to excel.

Date Created: June 13, 2023