When most people think of The Foundling, what comes to mind initially is our work with children and families in the foster care system. Recently, though, we have embarked on a new initiative that is changing how we treat young people in the juvenile justice system. We are one of just a few organizations nationwide to implement this initiative and now other not-for-profit child and family services organizations are turning to us for guidance.
In our current justice system, it costs the State of New York $260,000 per year in taxpayer dollars to house a juvenile offender in an upstate facility. Despite that enormous expense, 80% of juvenile offenders sent to upstate facilities (usually far away from their downstate homes) are re-arrested for committing new crimes once they get out.
This cost coupled with the alarming statistics indicating the system’s inefficacy have prompted state and city leaders to change the focus and begin to use alternatives that keep juveniles closer to their communities and their families. As this important change takes hold, we need to assure that these leaders are providing alternatives to incarceration programs and services that really get results.
The Foundling’s juvenile justice initiative, Blue Sky, has experienced tremendous results, with re-arrest rates at a quarter of those in other alternative (to incarceration) programs. In 2008-2009, Blue Sky reported between five and eight percent re-arrest rates compared to 30 percent re-arrest rates in other alternative programs. Blue Sky is also a low-cost alternative, at only $17,000 per year to treat a juvenile offender, compared to the $260,000 per year that it normally costs to incarcerate a juvenile offender upstate.
So how is Blue Sky different from other programs?
Blue Sky uses Evidence Based Practice (EBP) tactics, which means that clinical trials and empirical evidence have proven these specific methods are effective for treating certain populations of juveniles. The method of treatment we use varies depending on the juvenile, the family and other circumstances. The most common methods of treatment involve a licensed and trained therapist frequently visiting the juvenile and his family at home. The therapist motivates the family to work together to make necessary changes that benefit the juvenile as well as the family unit. The therapist and the family help the juvenile overcome problematic influences that are leading to his destructive and possibly criminal behavior. Whether it is drug use, a lack of supervision at home, deviant peers, or frequent tension within the home, the therapist gives the family the tools they need to work together and resolve the problem.
A typical example of a Blue Sky treatment program would involve a young man who uses recreational drugs, frequently skips school and spends time with his peers all day, who can be a very negative influence on his behavior. His single mother may work two jobs and is therefore not around enough to sufficiently monitor her child. In this situation, the therapist will help the mother find a monitoring system to look after the child while she is at work. The monitor will make sure the youth stays out of challenging situations and on the right track.
All of the Blue Sky methods involve home treatment for juveniles, working with their families during every step. Our experience to date has been excellent and we have recently begun a clinical trial to assess Blue Sky’s effectiveness. It’s the only clinical trial of its kind done in the past 30 years in New York City and will last 36 months.
Even though we are still in the process of collecting data, we’re extremely encouraged by our progress to date and look forward to seeing continued results, from our program and from those launched by other organizations, as more juveniles are diverted from incarceration upstate.