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The Missouri Division of Youth Services' innovative approach to juvenile corrections staffing.

As the old adage goes, "You can pay me now, or you can pay me later." In the field of corrections, that saying is certainly true. Correctional systems that do not provide the proper resources on the front end, will pay later when offenders return to the system. The revolving door that results is both costly and inefficient. This sentiment has resonated with Missouri's executive and legislative leaders during the past 25 years. Their commitment of money and support allowed the Missouri Division of Youth Services (DYS) to overhaul the juvenile justice system. Other states have responded similarly to stop the seemingly unavoidable graduation of youths from juvenile into adult correctional systems.

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With increasing interest during the past several years, there has been significant attention given to investing state money in the services and programs provided by juvenile justice systems nationwide. Executive, legislative and community leaders are deciding to invest in juvenile justice programs in an effort to redefine the available paths that young offenders may follow. Rather than having training schools and juvenile justice programs act as "feeder" groups for the adult prison systems, states are looking at the need for effective juvenile justice systems that divert youths from proceeding deeper into the correctional system and refocus youths on their individual potential.

To maintain programs that successfully keep juveniles out of adult prisons, the appropriate type of workforce must be hired and retained specifically for juvenile justice systems. A deliberate organizational and employment plan must be created and deployed to address the expectation of the agency's unwavering commitment to the safe and secure care of youths. From the agency director to the frontline worker, the expectations must be taught and practiced.

When DYS began the process of developing and managing the appropriate workforce for the unique population it serves, officials started with a basic premise of providing a quality program that would result in the successful rehabilitation of youths within the agency's care. With all the new advancements, insights and education available regarding positive treatment methods for adolescents, juvenile justice organizations have continuing opportunities to review the needs of their clients, the programs they provide, and how their resources can best serve and support youths and staff at every level of the organization.

The treatment and rehabilitation programs that are employed in the nation's juvenile justice systems are as varied as the states themselves. As families, local communities, government, and program and management staff continue to look for ways to redefine opportunities for juvenile offender rehabilitation, more people are beginning to see that a significant investment in the development and treatment of individual youths is an investment that has far-reaching implications for the individual, the family, the community, the taxpayers and society as a whole. Presently, many states are reviewing their existing systems and examining new possibilities and opportunities for contributing to the rehabilitation of youths in ways that provide a significant return on the public's investment.

Throughout the years, DYS has been afforded fiscal and program support, enabling staff to develop new programs and treatment methods for incarcerated youths. However, the agency considers its efforts a work in progress. Staff are continually looking for ways to integrate and solidify the successful best practice components of agency programs, while working to reassess aspects of the programs with new ideas outside traditional correctional thinking.

The Missouri Experience

Missouri's juvenile justice system changed dramatically 25 years ago with the decision to convert a system of large rural training schools, which housed about 500 male and 150 female juveniles, to the Missouri Department of Corrections to use for housing the adult inmate population.

After Missouri abandoned the training school approach, a decentralized regional system was created with the hopes that it would provide a more positive, rehabilitative environment for youths. As a result, the agency began opening a series of smaller 10-, 20-, 30- and 40-bed facilities across the state. The objective was to keep youths closer to their families and to house them in smaller, more intimate settings that are more conducive to personal growth, development and accountability. Missouri's juvenile offenders, including those in secure care, are now housed in open dorms, rather than in cells or individual rooms. In addition, the youths are permitted to wear their street clothes within the nurturing and less institutional-like environment provided by DYS.

During the era of the state-operated training schools, a significant portion of the workforce was comprised of staff who came from rural backgrounds. In contrast to the metropolitan areas that were home to most of the committed youths, the training school facilities were located far from urban centers. Line staff in these facilities were primarily high school educated men from rural areas. Consequently, the needs and realities of life for the urban youths, who comprised a majority of the juvenile population, often clashed with the perspectives of the workforce.

At the training schools, the key frontline staff were the correctional officers. Their duties, responsibilities and requirements were much like those required of correctional officers in the adult facilities. As DYS changed the look and feel of the juvenile facilities to better address the needs of youths, the agency mandated a radical change to the workforce. DYS realized that in order to create an environment that would meet the new treatment expectations of the agency, it must considerably change the qualifications of staff who were hired to work with the youths. In response to this need, DYS replaced the correctional officer classification with the youth specialist classification. The work description of a youth specialist states that the individual is responsible for the safety, personal conduct, care and therapy of clients. Youth specialists are responsible for developing and implementing successful treatment techniques and for reporting each client's adjustment and progress. They are primarily required to enter the organization with a college degree in criminal justice, psychology, sociology, social work or a closely related field. In order to attract and retain degreed staff, the pay scale was raised to support market equity. Also, by diversifying facility locations, the agency was able to recruit staff who were more reflective of the areas that are being served. Creating a richly diverse workforce became a major focal point of recruitment on the college campuses across the state.

The Treatment Approach

Within the smaller facilities, the agency's focus was placed on an operating principle that delinquent behavior can be contained and modified by giving the youth a positive role in a group process and subculture. In addition, the agency stressed that the process and subculture must be specifically designed to assist youths in discovering ways that they can be positively empowered to function effectively and appropriately with friends, family, community and society.

DYS youths help one another solve problems in positive ways by teaching their peers to behave responsibly. A basic premise of the concept is that youths in trouble have problems that can most effectively be solved with help from their peers and guidance from staff provided in a healthy and safe environment. This is done by creating an environment where youths know they will not get hurt and where they understand that staff truly care about their individual needs. This strong emphasis on group treatment is certainly a departure from the more traditional correctional approach of the training school.

The change from the correctional, custodial approach to a treatment approach with trained, college-educated staff was made despite some formidable challenges. The results, however, were well worth the investment. The success of today's program, which has resulted in a recidivism rate of less than 10 percent, can be attributed to the staff who are employed in every facet of the organization. The dedication and goodwill that staff have toward the youths are key to the success of DYS programs. The employees' skills and talents enable the agency to serve the needs of the youths, their families and their communities. DYS staff have proved that an organization is only as good as the employees who support it.

Recruitment

The youth specialist, rather than the correctional officer, classification provides DYS with an opportunity to tap into an opplicant pool that might otherwise be overlooked for juvenile justice entry-level positions. By providing job opportunities for new college graduates, DYS is able to recruit individuals who have a sincere interest and theoretical background in criminal justice, social work, psychology and social services-related fields. The agency recruits extensively at statewide universities, employment fairs and specialty expos. Staff spend time with potential applicants, talking to them about the program and the unique opportunities the agency provides for individuals interested in the helping professions and the rehabilitation and empowerment of juvenile offenders. Additionally, a significant amount of time is spent working within local communities and with judicial partners to foster strong relationships, educational opportunities, support and interest in the services DYS provides. Through informal networks and word-of-mouth, these partnerships have greatly contributed to citizen interest in the DYS program and employment opportunities.

For potential staff who do not meet the experience and educational requirements of the youth specialist, DYS has established a youth specialist trainee classification that gives managers some flexibility in meeting the staffing needs within their available labor pool. Typically, trainees can be recruited after completing 60 hours of college coursework with a minimum of six hours in social sciences. If they are successful in the performance of their job duties, trainees receive a probationary increase. Once a trainee successfully completes two years of service during which time he or she is provided significant classroom and on-the-job training and guidance, then he or she may be promoted to a youth specialist position.

Another way DYS is building a solid workforce is by recruiting diverse individuals. In fact, it is considered an integral part of the agency's successful program. DYS believes that the employees who support the work of the agency's programs should reflect the diversity and individuality of the communities, families and youths. The current workforce is almost evenly split between males and females, with a significant percentage being minorities.

The ability to recruit interested applicants from all walks of life, each with a common commitment to the health, safety, well-being and rehabilitation of youths, is the primary goal driving all recruitment efforts. Whether employing teachers, cooks, recreation officers, substance abuse counselors or maintenance workers, DYS is firmly committed at every level to the understanding that in its programs, "Everything is treatment; do no harm."

Retention

The second most important aspect of building a sustainable workforce is continually working to keep good, solid employees. DYS believes there are core components that create a foundation for staff to experience a sense of dedication and satisfaction. First, is an assurance that each employee understands and embraces the contribution he or she provides to the organization and the significant responsibility that comes along with the position. Second is the understanding and implementation, at every level, of the agency's vision, mission and values, including management and treatment philosophies. Third is that there are performance expectations, training, education and development plans for employees at every juncture of their DYS careers. And, finally, that there are sound policies and practices that support the work staff do and the way they do it.

On-the-job training and classroom education play an integral part of an employee's success as well. As the training coordinator would say, employees who are properly trained feel supported and equipped to perform their jobs. Training encourages people to stay on the job and face the challenges because they are provided the tools they need to feel like they can be successful. Training plays a key role in providing a common understanding and approach for all DYS staff. Whether a person's job is answering the phones, pushing the brooms, counseling the youths or providing classroom education, staff are all provided with training and education expectations that directly support the agency's vision, mission and program. DYS educators work diligently to ensure that all employees understand the treatment concept and staff all "speak the same language" regarding treating, interacting and supporting the youths.

Providing services in a 24-hour-a-day operation can be a difficult environment for retaining staff, even with solid retention programs in place. Turnover rates are much higher than in other more standard government programs, and scheduling difficulties are a challenge that managers constantly face. The DYS approach is that turnover and retention can be a balanced partnership. Agency employees fall into two categories: "anchor" and short-term employees. The anchors are the staff members who become so personally committed to their work that they remain in the organization and find personal career satisfaction on the front line or in other areas such as program development, management or business operations. DYS also employs staff in frontline service delivery who are short term. The short-term employees are usually split into two categories--those who come into work and do not support the program expectations and treatment requirements and those who come in from college with limited work experience or career exploration. DYS is firm in its belief that those who do not embrace the treatment services that are provided must move on. The agency also understands that for others, as their adult lives and personal aspirations develop, they will look for and move into different occupations. While they are employed by DYS, the agency provides professional development opportunities and work experiences that will create in each individual a strong understanding of the importance of social services, community commitment and beliefs in the individual possibilities of the youths in the system. This outreach and experiential education for staff who eventually move on only serve to further public awareness and understanding of the work DYS staff perform.

For those who regard this work almost as a calling, DYS continues to provide growth and developmental opportunities. Managers are charged with creating an environment that supports open communication, acceptance of new ideas, autonomy, individual responsibility and fun. The average tenure of the youth specialists is almost five years and for group leaders it is nearly eight years. The youth facility managers, regional administrators and deputy directors tend to have substantially longer tenures with the organization and they have worked in many different positions. The glue that keeps the core workforce together is an unwavering commitment to the youths, a willingness to do whatever it takes to get the job done and faith in successful rehabilitation, which DYS defines as much more than just keeping youths out of the adult correctional system.

Mark D. Steward is director of the Division of Youth Services in the Missouri Department of Social Services. Amanda Andrade is director of the Human Resources Division of the Missouri Department of Social Services.
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Title Annotation:CT Feature
Author:Steward, Mark D.; Andrade, Amanda
Publication:Corrections Today
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2004
Words:2442
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