Butler County Ahead of Research on Youth Development
I recently was asked to teach a graduate level class at Ohio State University dealing with youth organizations. The professor was out of town at a conference. He was very aware of my Extension youth development work and connection to the Butler County Juvenile Justice/Court ordered programs. The graduate students enrolled in AEE 642 had two chapters to read to prepare for my presentation. As I read the chapters in my preparation to teach, I discovered that Butler County was light years ahead of the published research about Juvenile Justice and positive youth development programs.
One of the chapters the students read began with “placing juvenile justice and positive youth development in the same sentence is somewhat like mixing oil and water.” Obviously this researcher has not been to Butler County. For the past 15 years, Juvenile Justice and OSU Extension have proven this research as not valid. The long standing relationship of taking positive youth development programs into Juvenile Justice began 15 years ago when Dr. Jordan sent a letter to Tom Barnes, Superintendent of Juvenile Corrections, detailing a Teen Fathering program. With a high number of teen fathers involved in the Juvenile Justice system a strong and lasting partnership began.
The teen fathers in the facility enrolled in the teen fathering skills classes and were taught the responsibilities of fatherhood. From that initial program, many other positive youth development programs have been successfully done with these two agencies that work to improve the lives of adolescents. Most people think of juvenile justice as punishment or rehabilitation of bad youth and positive youth development as preventing or teaching youth life skills; however, Butler County has successfully mixed the oil and water to make a rich dressing that has enabled some adolescents to have successful growth and development. One of my challenges to the students was to think of a visual situation when they have witnessed a negative situation that occurred at a positive youth development program that might have affected the growth and development of the youth similarly to youth in juvenile justice. Some of the graduate students relayed situations like: the color of a ribbon awarded at the county fair or science fair and the behavior demonstrated as a result, the winning or losing at an athletic event and the impact the teams or fan demonstrated as a result, or the parent/teacher conferences and how a student’s performance was being measured against standards set by education and perceptions.
The students were amazed in the readings when they learned about youth involved with the juvenile justice system. Many had perceptions the youth were all from neighborhoods that lacked structure; however, I shared with them that all types of youth are involved with juvenile justice. Youth go to juvenile court for a vehicular ticket, child custody hearings, as well as breaking the law. These youth come from all neighborhoods, socio-economic backgrounds, and family groups. Most youth involved with juvenile justice are a result of behavior issues, risky behaviors, or not following the laws. There was much discussion about juvenile justice only being known for punishment and little was known about accountability.
One of the chapters discussed a state’s report of being involved with Comprehensive Strategies. I explained that Butler County had been involved with Comprehensive Strategies a few years ago and the record number of people and agencies that worked together collaboratively to reduce the juvenile delinquency and juvenile incarceration. I gave the class examples of how Butler County used Comprehensive Strategies to open doors of agencies who previously had not worked together to establish partnerships and juveniles and their families were the main focus. Once again, Butler County was light years ahead of promoting positive youth development for all youth.
The readings identified issues of youth “problem behaviors” that result in youth not experiencing positive youth development. These were discussed and noticeable thoughts were made by the students as they prepare to graduate and move into new job opportunities. Here are the “problem behaviors”:
* Delinquency – youth who fail to follow the rules that are established at home, at school, in the community, and in the state.
* Substance abuse – youth who experiment with drugs, alcohol, prescription drugs, or household chemicals that intake foreign substances into their bodies that are not normal.
* Teenage pregnancy – youth experimenting with their lives that results in life changing results by producing a child, contracting an STD, or having intimate relationships with multiple partners.
* School attendance – youth failing to appreciate the value of an education and the impact on their future careers, youth not being challenged by current education standards because their IQ is much higher than their current grade level, or school staff members that have a personal dislike toward a student resulting in negative issues for both people.
* Risky behaviors – youth that like to live on the edge and experiment with life changing standards such as driving, drinking, drugs, sex, and taking things that belong to others.
* Family influences – youth that idolize elders and immolate adults because they are role models, follow a pattern established by generations of family, or youth that rebel against tradition.
* Neighborhood/community – youth who live in areas where there is very little to do, lack of responsibilities or chores to perform, lack of men in a neighborhood to monitor behaviors, and traditions established for generations or reputations.
All kinds of youth come from these environments so why some youth are the ones that have positive life experiences and others have situations that find themselves involved with juvenile justice regularly.
The researchers had some challenges for youth development and juvenile justice to adopt so youth from all communities and neighborhoods could benefit and they were:
1. Have meaningful engagement of youth in all kinds of programs that promote goals and objectives.
2. Measurable impact on both asset building and risk reduction for youth.
3. Collect and quantify the impact of those programs that are available for youth. Some in Butler County have long traditions with each other as a result of Comprehensive Strategies meetings.
4. Educate the public on the effectiveness of partnership and efforts. The result is this and some previous news articles.
Most recently the positive relationship between juvenile justice and OSU Extension has been the impact 4-H CARTEENS has had on teen drivers; Tech Wizards is a grant from Washington D.C. to teach youth about science, technology, engineering and math; and life skills where youth learned about the values needed to get a job and the costs of living on their own.
In the end, Butler County is way ahead of the research that says mixing juvenile justice and positive youth development programs is like mixing oil and water. The Butler County oil and water has been mixed and the end result has been extremely positive for the youth in multiple ways and through multiple programs. Finally above all . . . what is needed is a sincere public commitment to the well-being and healthy development of all children, including those in trouble with the law and those not involved with the law yet.
News Release provided by James Jordan.