Enhancing Youth Outcomes: A Comprehensive Approach by the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice

Erica Stokes| June 20, 2024

The Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) has been making significant strides in addressing the behavioral health, substance use, and reentry needs of justice-involved youth. Cathy Smith-Curry’s recent presentation sponsored by our RCORP collaboration with Georgia Primary Care Association provided an in-depth look at several key initiatives and resources aimed at supporting these youth through a comprehensive and individualized approach.

ORS Services and Resources

One of the cornerstone initiatives is the Organized, Unstoppable, and Resilient – O.U.R. Youth, Our Georgia program. This program emphasizes statewide employment partnerships and onboarding processes for Youth Development Campus (YDC) youth. It includes online applications, virtual interviews, and the engagement of over 30 new employment partners. Highlights include the “Train to Gain” program at Augusta YDC and the Café Momentum initiative, which had eight youth participating in initial training and events on June 1, 2024.

In-Reach and Family Engagement

The initiative also stresses the importance of “in-reach” in pre-release planning for youth. This involves inviting providers to Youth Centered Reentry Team (YCRT) meetings with the permission of youth and their families, facilitating smooth transitions to services, and forming partnerships with the Division of Treatment and Care for substance abuse aftercare. Forensic peer mentors, in collaboration with the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD), play a crucial role.

Family engagement initiatives adopt a two-generational approach, including the quarterly “CHAT,” the Family Advisory Committee, and family/youth representation on the DJJ Reentry Task Force.

Substance Use Treatment Services

DJJ provides substance use treatment through multiple avenues. In YDCs, the Residential Substance Abuse Treatment (RSAT) units offer daily therapy sessions, family engagement sessions, and therapeutic journaling. General population treatment services are available for all youth with identified treatment needs, with weekly group sessions.

The Seven Challenges-Brief intervention, a four-session individual treatment readiness program, has been successfully implemented in Regional Youth Detention Centers (RYDCs).

Youth Centered Reentry Team (YCRT)

The YCRT is foundational to the DJJ’s reentry process. The team focuses on youth-centered and family-focused reentry planning through initial and ongoing meetings, pre-release meetings, and transition plan development across seven domains of protective factors. Post-release support includes follow-ups within two weeks, 30 days, and 60 days to ensure successful reintegration into the community.

DJJ Reentry Task Force Subgroups: Seven Domains of Aftercare

The DJJ Reentry Task Force has established subgroups to ensure comprehensive aftercare, focusing on seven domains:
• Family and Living Arrangements
• Education and Schooling
• Physical and Behavioral Health (including substance use)
• Peer Groups and Friends
• Leisure Time and Avocational Interests
• Career and Vocational Education
• Parenthood

These subgroups address the multifaceted needs of youth, ensuring a holistic approach to their reentry and support.

Georgia Youth Mentoring

The Georgia Youth Mentoring program is critical in supporting justice-involved youth. It includes facility mentors, expanding relationships with the faith community (e.g., Fresh Start Mentoring in Bibb County), and leveraging relationships with Mentor Georgia for additional support. Community mentors and Project Safe Neighborhoods/Credible Messengers also play essential roles.

Behavioral Health Services

DJJ offers comprehensive behavioral health services, including intake mental health screening, assessments, individualized treatment plans, and ongoing mental health caseload management. The services include individual and group counseling, dialectical behavioral therapy, and trauma affective regulation (TARGET). Additionally, crisis management, help request processes, and transition planning are key components.

Partnership with Community Service Boards

The DJJ’s efforts are bolstered by partnerships with various organizations, including the Community Service Boards, which often collaborate with juvenile justice and accountability courts through its diverse programs to provide essential support and services to youth. Programs like our Children and Adolescents and Emerging Adults and Rise Up offer treatment services, and peer supports for addiction recovery, telehealth services, and community outreach; all of which play a crucial role in supporting justice-involved youth. Additionally, accountability court programs provide structured environments where emerging adults can receive the necessary support to address substance use and behavioral health issues, ensuring a more seamless transition back into the community.

Program Impact and Future Directions

DJJ’s comprehensive approach to addressing the needs of justice-involved youth demonstrates a strong commitment to improving outcomes. By focusing on employment readiness, family engagement, substance use treatment, and behavioral health services, DJJ aims to provide a robust support system that promotes positive youth development and successful reentry into the community.

For further details, additional resources and information are available on the DJJ website https://djj.georgia.gov/.