Positive Behavior Support Youth At-Risk and Involved in Juvenile Corrections
Why “positive” support for “bad” kids?
Over 170,000 youth in the US are being held in short-term juvenile detention facilities or incarcerated in long-term juvenile correctional facilities. Many more are in community-based residential and day treatment or alternative education settings as an alternative to incarceration. Although most people assume that youth are placed in these programs because of their antisocial and delinquent behavior, many are placed because of “status offenses”—acts that wouldn’t be considered criminal if committed by adults. Furthermore, this large population of youth is characterized by numerous and complex needs. For example, 50 to 75% of approximately 170,000 incarcerated youth are estimated to have one or more mental health disorders and 30 to 50% are estimated to have educational disabilities. Many of these youth lack basic academic, social, and problem-solving skills, and have histories of physical, sexual, and substance abuse. Current zero tolerance and get-tough policies in schools focus on punishment to address problem behavior, which effectively start these youth along the school-to-prison pipeline. When they become incarcerated, they enter a world of even greater intolerance and a focus on security that overrides their need for treatment and positive growth experiences.How is positive behavior support provided to these youth?
In schools and communities, initiatives are underway to alter the pathway that leads from school to prison. This pathway begins with the disproportionate exposure of at-risk students to exclusionary disciplinary practices that alienate them from school and contribute to their academic and social failure, which leads to their dropping out of school and established patterns of antisocial and delinquent behavior, negative peer associations, and criminal activity. The School-to-Prison Reform Project, sponsored by the Southern Poverty Law Center, is focused on building resilience to these negative outcomes through enhancing school protective factors, specifically, by promoting positive behavioral interventions and support in schools. Another initiative is Tools for Promoting Educational Success and Reducing Delinquency, a project sponsored by the National Association of State Directors of Special Education and the National Disability Rights Network. Sets of tools have been developed in 9 sets beginning with prevention and early identification of at-risk children and culminating in transition of youth back to community schools. The three-tiered positive behavior support model is an essential framework for these tools, which are based on effective practices in schools and communities.
Positive behavior support also has been successfully implemented in a variety of alternative education and day treatment programs. These are operated by educational, mental health, or juvenile justice agencies in a variety of settings, the chief characteristics of which is that they are not residential and they include treatment and other programs not found in most public schools.
A range of secure care facilities is available for youth who have been arrested or adjudicated, and who are being diverted from juvenile correctional programs or placed in them. These include residential treatment, short-term detention, and incarceration in a juvenile correctional facility. In a growing number of these programs, positive behavior support is being tried as an alternative to traditional disciplinary practices in, with the same beneficial effects that have been observed in public schools. Teaching youth what behaviors are expected and acknowledging them for displaying these is proving to be an effective alternative to traditional approaches to discipline in these facilities. Still, secure care facilities aren’t public schools, and implementation efforts require adaptation to the features of detention and correctional settings. Chief among these are the 24-hour secure care milieu, and the presence of staff from a variety of disciplines and who have limited exposure to the notion of a positive approach to discipline.