We spoke to Christina Quaranta at Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance about their work to center young women in state-based juvenile justice reform as a model of innovation and lessons for the field from the process. This interview has been edited and condensed.

 

Why This Project?

We realized Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance is the only public policy advocacy organization in the state solely focused on juvenile justice, and we didn’t have one young person or family member as part of the decisions we were making.

We got a grant from OJJDP National Girls Initiative to work with the Center for Children’s Advocacy to do listening sessions that were facilitated through their youth-led advocacy program Speak Up. We started by going into four different facilities in the state and holding eight-to-ten week sessions with girls that were in some type of placement or service, and having them learn how to do self-advocacy. And at the same time, while teaching new skills, we were interviewing and asking questions and trying to figure out where problems and gaps existed in the care they were receiving, both in placement and in the system in general.

The takeaway after those listening sessions was that girls in Connecticut didn’t feel like they had any voice or choice in what happened to them, systematically or individually. We knew after hearing that we had to change how we as the Alliance worked.

 

Lessons for the Field

Center Youth As Experts

We pulled together quotes and data and wrote a report where girls shared their ideas about changing the juvenile justice system in Connecticut. A young woman, Madison, used that report to create a short movie, Wonder of a Woman, where she interviewed young women about their experiences and where they felt there were gaps, successes, and advice for providers.

We also hosted focus groups with juvenile justice providers and held a listening session with Gender Responsive Probation Officers. We presented responses from the focus groups at the Juvenile Justice & Policy Oversight Committee.

Make Youth Leadership Permanent

We began to partner with five young people from different programs we work with – they are Justice Advisors. Each advisor has been personally impacted by the justice system and has strong community connections. Their focus is getting into high schools, middle schools, and communities to talk to youth about what they need. 

Implement Youth-Led Solutions

Senate Bill 180 came out of one woman’s recommendation based on her own experience. Young women go to different foster homes without knowing anything about them. SB 180 requires the Department of Children and Families to provide foster children with foster care family profiles. Another result of the bill is DCF now has youth advisory boards where they pass through new policies for foster families. The bill also gives young people the right to be involved in their transition planning. This bill passed and is now Public Act 16-123.

Follow-Up Is Critical

In the Speak Up sessions, there was follow up when the sessions were done and data was gathered. Everyone got the closure they needed. We work hard to make sure we are developing two-way conversations, not having one-time transactions.

 

What’s Next?

Our focus in Connecticut is closing the Training School by July 1, 2018. At the moment juvenile justice is transferring to the judicial branch. The judicial branch is in the process of creating a whole new continuum of care. The Justice Advisors have been a part of sitting down with them to talk about what needs to put in place.

We want to go statewide to work with Justice Advisors in other towns. We’d love to have a Justice Advisor who is a state liaison. We’re also working on pushing the state as a whole to have families and youth at the table when decisions are being made. This approach needs to be the trend, the default.

 

How to Learn More

Read the publication: The Girls’ Report: How young women want to change the juvenile justice system.

Follow the Alliance on Twitter or Facebook.

Check our their website.

To learn more about this work, contact Christina Quaranta at christina@ctjja.org.