The inmates crowding our nation’s prisons didn’t get there overnight. Early in life, many of these adult offenders made poor choices or were victims themselves. For youth involved in the foster care and juvenile justice systems, an adult mentor can make the difference between a life of vulnerability or crime and a transformation.
EDC is providing the first federally funded training and technical assistance program specifically focused on mentoring programs for youth in the foster care and juvenile justice systems to four mentoring organizations in California, Illinois, Virginia, and Oregon. The Mentoring System-Involved Youth program is run by EDC in partnership with Aftercare for Indiana through Mentoring.
“The young people involved in this project have been disappointed by the adults in their lives,” says EDC’s Ivy Jones Turner. “They have few trusting or positive relationships with adults, and their lives are transient. Once they’re in the juvenile justice or foster care system, they often engage in destructive behavior. Criminal activity and poor life outcomes aren’t far behind.”
A commitment to youth
The statistics illustrate the urgency of the situation. According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) and the National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect Information, there are currently, in the United States, 600,000 adjudicated youth and 500,000 youth in foster care. Of juveniles released from state incarceration, 55 percent are rearrested, 33 percent are readjudicated, and 24 percent are reincarcerated.
EDC’s response includes helping organizations find and train mentors and pair them in positive relationships with system-involved youth. The program supports mentoring organizations to train the mentors to model and encourage healthy behaviors, share life skills, and listen to and communicate with youth. “We want mentors to realize they’re not there to save someone, but to show them, ‘I care about you. I’m on this journey with you,’ ” says Turner.
Program goals in 2009 include helping organizations recruit more African American mentors and developing more in-depth curricula to prepare mentors for the challenges of working with system-involved youth.
“Our hope is that we can ensure that the next generation is able to grow into successful, positive adults,” says Turner.
The Technical Assistance and Training Program for Mentoring System-Involved Youth is funded by OJJDP.
Originally published on April 17, 2009