The Big Shift: an update from Executive Director Anne Lee

Much of what has dominated our news cycles in 2018 has been so deeply disturbing and difficult – daily heart-wrenching gun violence, polarizing political rhetoric, and the increase in implied and explicit disparagement and “othering” of our families, friends and neighbors. Staying hopeful can be a challenge, so more than ever, we’re committing ourselves to building, expanding and strengthening our relationships so that we, together, can continue working towards a more inclusive and welcoming community for our youth and families. There is good news in the midst of all the bad, and we’ve been reflecting on some big changes that lay the foundation for system transformation in the spaces and places where TeamChild works.

There’s good news that we don’t always see or hear about. 

As lawyers and advocates for youth, we have a unique vantage point. We get to see the ways that laws, policies, and practices drive the results that we’re seeing. We’ve been especially keen on diving deeper into undoing the aspects of our juvenile court system that lead to poorer outcomes, fewer opportunities and lifelong negative stigma for youth of color, youth who are differently abled and youth who don’t have the privileges of wealth and access.

In March of 2015, we put out a concept paper called The Big Shift – intentionally written as a working draft and posed as an invitation to our public sector leaders to consider a set of bold, concrete actions for transforming the juvenile court system. It’s important to note that the Big Shift paper was just one of many calls for King County and our state to commit to eliminating the use of punishment and incarceration of youth and young adults. The Big Shift ideas would not have had the same impact without the work of a much larger movement calling for major change.

In the last year, in addition to all the important work being led by communities, we’ve seen big frame-changing moves by public institutions that lay the foundation for substantial changes in how we support youth in our state. While there’s much more work to be done, we wanted to call out the big shifts that are happening

Shifting paradigms

  • Stop using juvenile court to address youth behavior – One of the Big Shift recommendations called out the need to open up pathways for youth to be diverted away from juvenile court. Up until this June, Washington State law limited the ability of prosecutors and juvenile courts to divert youth referred by law enforcement. We worked on legislation in 2018, spearheaded by Senator Jeannie Darnielle, to substantially expand the ability to divert referrals into community programs. Now, nearly all juvenile court referrals in Washington State can be diverted. There is much work to be done to increase the use of diversion, including ensuring that community developed diversion responses are adequately resourced and urging changes in diversion practice by law enforcement, the prosecutors, and the courts.
  • Putting health and well-being at the forefront of our efforts: Another Big Shift idea called for replacing adult correctional and punitive approaches with a health and well-being framework. We specifically called for a change in oversight of King County’s juvenile detention and court programs, which were under the county’s Department of Juvenile and Adult Corrections. In November 2017, King County Executive Dow Constantine signed an executive order launching an intra-department inquiry to consider shifting oversight of juvenile detention to the county’s public health department. In February of this year, the county issued the group’s report which recommended that the county’s public health department take on oversight of detention. In response to strong community opposition to the building of a new youth jail in King County, the County Executive declared a goal of zero youth detention and convened another internal county group to develop recommendations. That group issued its Road Map to Zero Youth Detention report outlining a strategic plan that will guide future investments and policies to reduce youth involvement in the legal system. These reports and decisions are major shifts in approach, and, there is much work to be done to hold King County accountable to the goals and plans outlined in these reports.
  • Treat all youth in developmentally appropriate ways, even when there is a serious offense. Young people have great potential for resilience and, given opportunities, will grow up and thrive as adults. Research on adolescent development is having an impact on our courts and the legal frameworks for setting up the response to youth behavior. But, much of our juvenile criminal legal system has been hardwired with punitive and harsh sentencing found in adult court, and in some situations, teenagers in Washington State are subjected to adult criminal court and adult sentencing laws. Our Big Shift recommendations urged a more developmentally appropriate response to youth who are charged with serious offenses, including transferring youth charged in adult court from the jail to detention. This recommendation was implemented in King County in the past year, prompted by litigation around the poor treatment of youth housed in the Kent Jail. We also joined in amicus briefs on a case that came out of the Washington State Supreme Court this past month recognizing that we should not be sentencing teenagers to die in prison. In State of Washington v. Brian Bassett, the WA Supreme Court found that sentencing children to life without the possibility of parole is unconstitutional, thereby banning this inhumane sentence in that state. Read article and decision here.


A call to stay informed, be bold and exert influence in the circles around you.
  We are optimistic and hopeful that together, we can bring real change to systems. Each and everyone one of us can make a difference. The big shifts in approaches that have come out of the community’s call for change has opened doors for all of us to continue to not only be visionaries, pioneers, & catalysts but also to hold our public systems and each other accountable to fulfilling the promises being made to our youth, families and communities. We hope you’ll stay engaged and active with us!

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TeamChild Executive Director Anne Lee Appointed to Department of Children, Youth, and Families Oversight Board

TeamChild Executive Director Anne Lee has been appointed to serve on the Oversight Board of the new Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) for Washington State.

Governor Jay Inslee signed a groundbreaking law in 2017 (House Bill 1661) that moves state funded children’s services, including those provided to youth in the juvenile rehabilitation system, and from the Department of Social and Health Services into the Department of Children, Youth and Families. According to Governor Inslee, this transition, “supports the philosophy in Washington State that all children get an equal opportunity to succeed and that families benefit when services and policies take a preventative approach to problems.”

The Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration will join the new department in July of 2019, so this next year is critical in planning and implementing new strategies to divert youth away from the system as well as better serve youth currently incarcerated and to maximize their success upon reentry to the community.

In her capacity on the Oversight Board, Annie Lee will serve as a Subject Matter Expert in Reducing Disparities in Child Outcomes by Income, Race and Ethnicity.

“We are exploring ways to bring youth and impacted community voice to these conversations and to keep the new department accountable to reform or dismantle existing structures that allow racial disparities and negative outcomes to persist,” says Lee.

The full Oversight Board includes these members:

– Justice Bobbe J. Bridge, Center for Children & Youth Justice
Juvenile Rehabilitation and Justice Subject Matter Expert
– Rep. Ruth Kagi, House of Representatives
Early Learning Subject Matter Expert
– Annie Lee, Team Child
Subject Matter Expert in Reducing Disparities in Child Outcomes by Income, Race and Ethnicity
– Ben de Haan, Partners for our Children
Child Welfare Subject Matter Expert
– Annie Blackledge, Mockingbird Society
Representative of an Organization that Represents the Best Interest of the Child
– Charles Loeffler, Children’s Administration
Child Welfare Caseworker Representative
– Jess Lewis, OSPI
Foster Parent Representative
– Judge Frank Cuthbertson, Pierce County Superior Court
Judicial Representative over Child Welfare Proceedings or Other Children’s Matters
– Kevin Fuhr, Moses Lake Police Chief
Law Enforcement Representative
– Lois Martin, Community Day Center for Children
Early Childhood Program Practitioner Representative
– Wendy Thomas, Kalispel Tribe
Eastern Washington Tribal Representative
– Loni Greninger, Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe
Western Washington Tribal Representative
– Shrounda Selivanoff, Office of Public Defense
Parent Stakeholder Group Representative
– Sydney Forrester, Governor’s Policy Office
Governor’s Office Representative (non-voting)
– Rep. Tana Senn, House Democratic Caucus Legislator
– Rep. Tom Dent, House Republican Caucus Legislator
– Sen. Jeannie Darneille, Senate Democratic Caucus Legislator
– Sen. Steve O’Ban, Senate Republican Caucus Legislator

Giving Thanks and #GivingTuesday

Many of us are gathering this week with friends and family and taking the opportunity to reflect and give thanks. We here at TeamChild are so grateful for our community partners, and especially all of you who support our clients, our work and the broader movement for social justice.

We know you share our hopes for equity and our deep concern about the lack of meaningful opportunities for our children and youth. For over 20 years TeamChild has provided free legal help to countless numbers of youth struggling to navigate the challenges created by racially biased and economically unfair systems. Instead of homelessness, dropping out of school and incarceration, our clients are housed or back in school, with their families, and getting health care and other needed supports.

With your help, over the last year, we’ve expanded our legal services program to the youth facing homelessness, youth in foster care and youth who are incarcerated in our state’s juvenile prisons. We’ve also set our sights on cutting in half school exclusions and youth incarceration in Washington State.  We’re building our policy and training programs and strengthening our community partnerships so that we can replace outdated and punitive strategies with restorative, community-driven strategies that promote positive youth development. We can’t do this work alone, and urge you to join our efforts.

On #GivingTuesday, November 28thwe give thanks to you and we ask that you get involved. Invest in TeamChild. Be part of creating a better future for our youth and our community.

 

DON’T JUST FOLLOW THE RULES. MAKE THEM BETTER.

My first school discipline case was over 15 years ago.  When I got my first case as a TeamChild attorney representing a student who was expelled from school, I immediately reached out to my client’s high school principal.  This is the person who issued the expulsion to begin with.  In my youthful and optimistic state of mind, I felt certain that if I just connected with this principal, I could get him to understand the consequences the expulsion would have on my client and my client would be reconnected to education fast – an open and shut case.

I called up the principal and drove out to the rural high school where my client had been expelled.  It was the only high school around in a part of Washington state where it takes a long time to get from one town to the next.  I sat down across from the principal and pitched my client’s situation.  I told him about how important education was to my client, how he could make amends for his behavior, and how, without this principal’s help, my client would have nowhere to go to complete his education.  There were no alternative high schools or other options within miles of my client’s home.  My client, at 14, had no way to transport himself to another location.  He was dependent on the school bus just to get him to the high school that expelled him.  Sitting out of school for a year or longer would only disconnect him from the likelihood of earning a diploma and gaining the necessary skills to enter our state’s workforce ready to contribute.

To my surprise, the principal’s response was this:  “Wait, where DO expelled kids go to school?!”  This principal, whose job was to expel students when he thought it was appropriate, had no idea what happened to them after they were removed from his school.  At that moment, I realized that school discipline was a systemic problem much bigger than just the one client in front of me.  It was a problem that disconnected kids from school, sometimes forever.  Because at that time there were no end dates to expulsions and no educational entity with the responsibility of providing education to expelled students, TeamChild used to call expulsions the “death penalty” of discipline.

Luckily, school discipline rules have changed significantly since my first TeamChild school case.  The newest changes to state law accomplish two really important things.  First, all expulsions have to have an end date that is no longer than one academic term.  This is an important step towards reducing the likelihood that an expelled student drops out of school all together because there is a clear date that the student can rely on to return to their school.  But the second change is potentially even greater.  Every suspended and expelled student must receive educational services during any period of exclusion.  This means that the principal in my first case who expelled that client would have to have a plan for educating that student during the entire period of exclusion.  That principal would no longer wonder what happened to expelled students – because expelled students are still enrolled in school – receiving educational services.

These new state laws have been in place for a few years. But the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) has just recently proposed regulations that will help guide school districts in the details of how to implement these important changes.  These proposed regulations have been made public this fall and for the next month so that the public can comment on them and make suggestions to improve them or just to affirm the proposed changes.  Anyone can comment on proposed regulations.  If you want to read them for yourself and learn about the public comment process, visit the OSPI website.

There are several public hearings where comments can be made in person.  TeamChild attorney Dan Ophardt attended the first public hearing in Spokane on October 17. Our main message to OSPI includes:

  1. The new (proposed) rules offer students less due process. This means less protection from being removed from school unfairly.  We encourage OSPI not to go backwards, by reducing student protections.  The initial way a student and family can challenge a proposed removal from school is to allow the student to meet with the principal one on one, without the parent there.  Not only is this a lower amount of protections that the current law (which allows the first challenge to be in front of a hearing officer with your parent and an attorney present), it puts all the burden on the student to speak up for themselves against a school administrator.  This is really unfair.  School administrators have an overwhelming amount of power over students.  A meeting between a student and a principal is not an equitable meeting.
  2. OSPI attempts to define the types of educational services provided to students who are suspended and expelled from school. Unfortunately, the definition does not include “instruction” as part of the services that must be provided to students. Educational services without instruction is not an education.
  3. The changes to school discipline require school districts to develop culturally responsive parent engagement practices (See article from Seattle Times). Without parent input, it will be difficult for OSPI and school districts to clearly define and understand what is culturally responsive for parents. Any feedback students, parents, and community can provide on explaining what culturally responsive means to you would be very helpful!

 

TeamChild is working with other advocacy organizations, community groups, parents and students to give feedback on these new and important regulations.  We hope you will as well!

The deadline for making written comments about the discipline regulations is November 13, 2017.  The remaining public hearings are scheduled for October 30 at 3 pm in Yakima, November 7 at 1 pm in Renton and November 13 at 1 pm in Olympia. The locations and details can be found here.

20 Years of TeamChild – Looking back to look ahead

Minding my own business. I’d been a legal aid lawyer for about 5 years when I got the call from the legendary, Pat Arthur. Pat was the Director of the Institutions Project of Evergreen Legal Services – legendary because she went head to head with Washington’s prisons, championing and winning case after case to secure humane treatment, health care, and education for men, women and children incarcerated in our state. She and Simmie Baer, the fierce and passionate leader of the Juvenile Division of The Seattle King County Defender Association, had a radical idea. Tired of seeing hundreds of kids churning through juvenile court and detention every year, mostly for minor offenses, they wanted to give kids a team of lawyers and advocates who would fight for their rights to all the things that they needed to be successful and to ultimately stay out of juvenile court: education, a safe place to live, medical and mental health care for their overall well-being, and connection to family and community. I got the call because I had been exploring ways in which legal aid attorneys could advance the education rights of children. Pat and Simmie needed someone to provide education law training to Elizabeth Calvin, the new director of the new project. Two years later, I moved to Seattle to take a staff attorney job with TeamChild. It’s hard to believe that was 20 years ago. #powertothefounders

Not Rocket Science. TeamChild steps up to plate for young peopleThe concept behind TeamChild is not rocket science, but in 1997, it was cutting edge. It intentionally broke through the service delivery silos of civil legal aid and public defense. We confronted the obstacles teenagers faced and took action to get to the root of why they were getting into trouble with the law. Our clients shared their strengths and hopes, and we stood by them during the toughest of times. As lawyers, we made sure that the education, health care, and other child serving systems provided the services they were created deliver. Shoring up community supports in a holistic way gave courts more options; and our clients stayed out of jail and got more chances to be diverted from juvenile court involvement altogether. #standingwithyouth

Does it work? Yes, doing what it takes for youth gets great results. TeamChild’s legal advocacy produces greater connections to education, housing, health care and other supports, and that results in fewer juvenile justice contacts. Our most recent evaluation found that juvenile court contacts are cut in half for youth that get TeamChild’s legal representation. Meeting basic needs is common sense; keeping kids out of the justice system makes economic sense – for every dollar spent on TeamChild, taxpayers save $2.

Scaling Our Impact. Pat, Simmie, and Elizabeth planted the seeds for TeamChild, and thanks to countless supporters and partnerships over the years, we have been able to provide critical legal advocacy for over 14,000 young people across the state. We are committed to expanding our capacity to meet the legal needs of youth who are at highest risk for entanglement in the juvenile and criminal justice system. At the same time, we recognize that working with youth one by one is not enough. Although school exclusions and juvenile justice numbers have declined dramatically, our state still has over 16,000 juvenile detention admissions a year and more than 40,000 suspensions and expulsions from school. And, system reform efforts to date have not been able to reduce the alarming disparities across race, disability and income. The number and rates of youth incarceration and exclusionary discipline are glaring indicators of our failure to support children. So, we have set our sights on dramatically cutting the number and rates of incarceration and school exclusions. We’re building our policy and training programs and strengthening our community partnerships in order to dismantle the pipelines that push youth into the justice system and replace outdated and punitive strategies. We can’t do this work alone, and urge you to join our efforts. We need partners of all sorts — passionate visionaries, worker bees, investors, and innovators. We look forward to hearing from you! #buildingamovement, #zeroincarceration, #youthfirst

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