KIDS COUNT 2008: A CFK Overview
Washington, DC, June 12, 2008—Grace Bauer's son was 13 when, in 2001, he was sentenced to a juvenile justice facility in their home state of Louisiana, where Bauer says he was beaten, physically and emotionally abused and raped by another juvenile. Today, at age 21 he continues to suffer from the trauma of his incarceration.
Concern for her son led Bauer into advocacy; she is now a statewide community organizer for the nonprofit Families and Friends of Louisiana's Incarcerated Children.
"Because we came together as parents and advocates we did change Louisiana—there's now less than 700 kids in secured care in Louisiana [from nearly 2,000 in 2001] and we're on the road to closing the second juvenile prison" in the state, she said.
Bauer was one of the speakers at the June 12, 2008 launch event for the Annie E. Casey Foundation's 19th annual KIDS COUNT Data Book, which tracks how children from birth to young adulthood are faring on 10 indicators of health, education, financial security and well-being. This year's essay focused on juvenile justice.
Speaking at the briefing, Doug Nelson, President and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, called juvenile justice—"one of our nations most problematic child-serving systems, one whose continued poor performance has dramatic implications for some of our most disadvantaged youth and their communities."
Juvenile Justice—which is actually a series of state systems, not a single national system—was developed based on the principle that children are more amenable to rehabilitation than adults.
In the U.S., nearly 100,000 young people are confined in juvenile jails, prisons, boot camps, and other residential facilities on any given night. As many as 200,000 youth are transferred to the adult system each year, according to research cited in the Data Book.
In practice, the system is often costly and ineffective, with high recidivism rates, inadequate mental health and substance abuse treatment, and disproportionate confinement of minority youth, Nelson said.
We Know What Works - A Road Map for Reform in Juvenile Justice
"This status quo need not stand," Nelson said at the event. In recent years, there have been big gains in research and our understanding of youth development—we have an evidence-based knowledge of what works. Several states, including Illinois, Connecticut, California and Louisiana, have improved their juvenile justice systems.
Nelson noted that the federal government has role to play in encouraging "best practices" that come from research and have been proven to work well.
One example is the Casey-funded Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative (JDAI), the nation's most widely replicated juvenile justice reform approach, which focuses on reducing detention and secure confinement. JDAI helps cities and states change undetake systems changes.
"It has demonstrated that we can safely lower the number of kids we lock up," Nelson said. Learn more about JDAI. http://www.aecf.org/MajorInitiatives/JuvenileDetentionAlternativesInitiative.aspx
For youth who require confinement, the Missouri Division of Youth Services has established a model program. Under this approach, youth live in small, home-like facilities located close to their families. There are no cells or uniforms and each young person is given a case manager for the entire length of his/her confinement. Missouri' s recidivism rate is below that of most other states. Learn more about the Missouri model.
Another is Southwest Key Programs, a nonprofit offering a range of comprehensive services "to keep youth out of jails and detention facilities, to reunify families, and to strengthen the fabric of their communities." Learn more about Southwest Key
As Rep. Robert C. Scott (D-VA) told attendees at the briefing, "Let's stop the nonsense and do what's right for our children."
A Look at Overall KIDS COUNT Findings
In addition to its focus on juvenile justice, the Data Book covers 10 areas of child well-being. The new data show slight gains since 2000—but they lag far lag behind the steady improvements made in the late 1990s. Of the ten indicators, five showed improvement since 2000:
- child death rate
- teen death rate
- teen birth rate
- high school dropout rate
- and teens who are not in school and not working (also called "idle teens" or "disconnected youth")
One had no change:
- infant mortality rate.
Four indicators worsened:
- low-birthweight babies
- children living in families where no parent has full-time, year-round employment
- children in poverty
- children in single parent families.
Focus on Child Poverty: In 2006, 13.3 million or 18 percent of children lived in poverty, an increase of about 1 million children since 2000. The period from 2000 to 2006 was a period of relatively strong economic growth—as the economy stalls and housing burdens grow, these numbers are likely to worsen.
The briefing provided not only numbers and trends in the conditions of kids and families but also gave a glimpse of some of the human stories behind the numbers. You can see some of these in the Data Book and the materials online.
KIDS COUNT Resources
You can access the entire Data Book and can create your own graphs, state profiles and reports on the redesigned Casey KIDS COUNT Data Center site.
Maria Allen is an intern with Connect for Kids/Child Advocacy360, now SparkAction.