Advocacy 2.0 Beyond the Juvenile Code: More Steps to Get Youth on a Positive Path

By Pat Willis, Executive Director 

Here’s a lesson from Advocacy 2.0:  “The making of a law is as important as the law itself.”  It’s like strategic planning – it’s not the plan but the joint decision-making about values and priorities and objectives for the plan that bind the planners together and create the culture that makes the plan work.

In 2013 the Governor signed legislation that reformed the Georgia Juvenile Code.  The new law reflects a fundamental shift in our approach to troubled youth and youth in trouble.  The many stakeholders who united to change the Code agreed to respect the developing child within each young person and to find proven ways in the community to help that young person toward a successful life.  Our judgesprosecutors, defense attorneys and community organizations worked on the law together before it passed and are working together now to ensure that children who commit status offenses and nonviolent crimes get services and programs that address the root of their problems and sustain their connections to family and community.

But some youth must still serve in detention if they pose a risk to others.  They will need extra support to re-enter community life as responsible, independent adults.  How does one go into detention as a child and come out as an adult without significant help?  Stakeholders are called upon to apply a similar shift in approach, one that believes that behavioral interventions and training can work to restore young people to a productive path.  The Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice is demonstrating that belief with a new “Re-entry Services Unit” that has just announced seven career planning centers for detained youth.  But DJJ is not in this alone.   The Georgia Department of Labor, the Technical Colleges of Georgia, and local Community Based Organizations will partner with DJJ in teaching youth the fundamental skill sets and providing them with opportunities to work at becoming productive young citizens.

Commissioner Niles described the work of the Centers as a step by step process beginning with career awareness, assessments, skill development and resume building. “These youth will realize they have more control over their own futures and they can help increase their own chances of longer-term career success,” the Commissioner said in a press release issued June 30.

Advocacy 2.0:  The process of making laws can drive values, programs, investments and, finally, outcomes.  As advocates for children, we must be part of the process of making the law, not just cheerleaders from the side. After passage we must cheerlead for the resources, the fidelity, and the evaluation that lead to success or to the next improvement to make the law even better.