We are commemorating our 25th Anniversary with 25 posts about our history and accomplishments between now and the Spotlight Gala on September 15. Join us for a celebration of Voices for Children and all of the organizations, lawmakers, and individuals who have supported our work on behalf of children. For details, visit voicesforchildren.com/spotlight-gala.
Advocacy victories for children don’t happen by accident. They often take time – lots of time, and lots of work, and lots of reports, and lots of repetition. This seems to be especially true when we take a look back at Voices for Children’s juvenile justice history.
After years of work on piecemeal improvements to Nebraska’s juvenile justice system, Voices for Children put its energy into producing a comprehensive report on juvenile justice and its linkages with child welfare and behavioral health, in hopes of inspiring real reform spear-headed by the Legislature. In 2007, Spare Some Change: An Account of the Nebraska Juvenile Justice and Children’s Behavioral Health System, was released. The report contains legislative history, information on adolescent brain development, best practices for effectively dealing with children and youth who come into conflict with the law, personal stories and reflections from youth in the system, and two whole pages of recommendations on needed reforms, with a specific focus on creating community-based alternatives to incarceration and congregate care.
So what happened as a result of this report? Spare Some Change continues to be a great reference for our office and policymakers alike, but the fervent plea for comprehensive reform seems to have fallen on deaf ears.
What it has done, however, is help establish core principles and a reform agenda that we’re still fighting for today at the Legislature and on a more local level. The introduction of the report is just as true today as it was in 2007:
- “There have been enough studies;
- Nebraska law often drives children toward the adult criminal justice system rather than the more rehabilitative juvenile justice system; […]
- Well intentioned, but incomplete changes have been made to foster care, juvenile justice, and behavioral health systems; and,
- Now is the time for sustained efforts to reform how we care for our children and youth.”
We’re hopeful that the next 25 years will see the kind of changes to our juvenile justice system that the our first 25 years did not.