In Focus: Pathways to Reconnection

Aug 22, 2017  |  PERMALINK »

Reauthorization of JJDPA Moves Forward

By Noel Tieszen

Before recessing for the August break, the U.S. Senate passed S 860 to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 (JJDPA), which provides federal funding to support evidence-based programs for youth who are involved or at risk of involvement in the juvenile justice system. It also institutes several core protections that limit use of incarceration, protect youth from contact with adult prisoners, and address overrepresentation of youth of color in the justice system.

If enacted, S 860 would update JJDPA with increased emphasis on trauma-informed approaches to juvenile justice and focus attention on the unique needs of youth who have been trafficked, Tribal youth, and those facing mental health or substance abuse challenges. In addition, the bill would lift bans on harmful practices such as shackling pregnant girls, make improvements to educational services for incarcerated youth, and strengthen accountability within the juvenile justice system.

This year’s bill comes 10 years after the most recent reauthorization expired. Passed with a voice vote, the Senate bill now goes to conference committee for reconciliation with the House version (HR 1809) passed in May.

Although JJDPA has broad bipartisan support, hurdles to reauthorization remain. Lawmakers and advocates expect that the Deinstitutionalization of Status Offenders (DSO) provision will be a sticking point in negotiations. JJDPA’s DSO core requirement bans incarceration of youth for status offenses – behaviors such as truancy, running away, or possession of tobacco, that would not be illegal if committed by an adult. Unfortunately, the 1980 reauthorization created an exception that allows judges to lock up youth for status offenses if they violate a Valid Court Order (VCO). The House version of this year’s bill instructs states to phase out this VCO exception over three years; that phase-out provision was removed from the Senate bill.

Since the VCO exception was established, about half of U.S. states and territories have banned or discontinued its use. The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, which led the effort to establish the exception in 1980, now supports phasing it out. However, several states continue to use it liberally. Some, such as Washington and Kentucky, have used VCO exceptions to criminalize and incarcerate hundreds and even thousands of youth each year.

We encourage lawmakers to reconcile the bills quickly, and we further urge negotiators to ensure the VCO phaseout is included in the final legislation. 

Jul 27, 2017  |  PERMALINK »

Homeless Students Gain Their Education While Navigating Challenges

By Del Smith

Earlier this summer, SchoolHouse Connection hosted “Voices of Youth: A Discussion on Education, Resilience, Homelessness, and Hope” in partnership with Senators Patty Murray and Lisa Murkowski. The briefing spotlighted the 1.3 million homeless students enrolled in public K-12 or postsecondary education.

“Voices of Youth” featured 11 young adults who were homeless during their school years and who are currently attending (or recently graduated from) college. The discussion covered many important topics, including economic insecurity, family trauma, barriers to college success, and mental health battles. Additionally, panelists recommended policy solutions based on their lived experiences.  

Among many obstacles, students discussed missing school to take care of their younger siblings because their parents had to work. They also highlighted immigrant students’ barriers to accessing benefits and services. Finding housing and securing financial aid are also challenging for homeless young people. Several panelists said it was hard to prove they were homeless when applying for financial aid. Homelessness also affects their ability to get an apartment or car. Even when students are employed and can afford to make payments, lenders want co-signers to be ensured the debt will be repaid. Typically, a co-signer is a parent or legal guardian; however, homeless students are often independent or have parents who won’t co-sign.

Mental health was another important topic. Students said they were often told to forget about past traumas, invalidating their experiences. In comparison to housed teens, homeless teens have dramatically worse health outcomes. In one study, over 20 percent of students living in poverty experienced some form of mental illness within the last year. Further, homeless teens are three times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers. These challenges are compounded by students’ struggle to afford health care. Oftentimes, they have to rely on student health offices, which provide quick fixes rather than long-term solutions.

Students also highlighted the importance of outreach. Low awareness can minimize the impact of even the best policies.  To address that issue, panelists recommended that every college and university have a homeless liaison to help students make the most of their college experience. Typically, liaisons are former homeless students who now work closely with organizations fighting to end student homelessness. 

Current federal policy proposals threaten homeless youths’ access to housing, health care, and other support services. The president’s FY 2018 budget would cut over $200 billion from SNAP and TANF over the next decade. It would also cut $600 billion from Medicaid, another crucial support for youth. These proposals demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding about homeless youth’s needs as well as our country’s future.

In today’s difficult political landscape, the briefing served as an important reminder to policymakers and advocates: in order to help homeless students, we must first understand their experiences.


Jun 5, 2017  |  PERMALINK »

Go-Throughs to Get Through: New report and infographics foreground the mental health experiences of young adults living in poverty

Young adults living in poverty face high exposure to “go throughs”: lived experiences of structural disadvantage and trauma with lasting implications for educational, economic, and other life outcomes. They frequently “get through” these challenges without formal mental health supports, relying on community-based programs and peer networks to cope with their experiences.

“Everybody Got Their Go Throughs”: Young Adults on the Frontlines of Mental Health summarizes findings from focus groups and analysis of data from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The accompanying infographics visually represent young adults’ understanding of mental health and provide an overview of the national data included in the report.

The report’s major findings are a call to action, underlining the importance of an assets-based approach to mental health supports for youth and young adults. Such an approach recognizes and validates strengths, resilience, and young adults’ drive to fully achieve their education, employment, and life goals.

In the context of the current federal health care fight, “Everybody Got Their Go Throughs” highlights the racial and economic justice implications of the Medicaid expansion and full implementation of the mental health parity and prevention provisions of the Affordable Care Act for low-income young adults. Beyond the current political moment, the report also outlines a set of principles for framing mental health policy and practice.

Read the Report

Go-Throughs to Get Through: Mental Health Defined Infographic

Go-Throughs to Get Through: Low-income Young Adults and Mental Health Infographic 

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