This year’s CJJA Summer Business meeting provided another opportunity to bring together Directors from across the country to talk about their Juvenile Justice Systems’ adaptations to living in a world with COVID-19. In partnership with Pew Charitable Trusts, this panel was moderated by CJJA’s transitioning President, Lisa Bjergaard, and featured Directors from ten states who highlighted what kind of impact the virus will have on the long-term practices. Directors discussed changes to facility operations, challenges, and new practices that may be worth sustaining that would increase long-term positive outcomes for youth. Admissions and releases, the use of technology to allow virtual family visits, the nature of delivery of academics, and staff wellness were all on the table.
In addition to increased hygiene, screening, and PPE practices, Directors discussed new norms like social distancing that will likely be sustained into the future. Social distancing rules have changed in-person visitation and education for youth, families, program staff, volunteers, teachers, and attorneys, and changed how youth are provided education, recreation, and programming. Across the board, Directors will seek to continue the increased volume and quality of family engagement that has occurred over the past eight months which has been made possible via the implementation of virtual equipment, technology, software and the support of community and private partners.
This new era of cultural, social, and well-being practices has also helped to usher in a “relational” vs. “corrections” model as reported by some Directors who speculate that having consistent staff who are assigned to small groups of youth throughout their shift, may contribute to actual decreases in incidents of violence and the use of restraints. Knowing that stress management and work/life balance is critical to wellness, and that COVID-19 protocols continue to take an enormous amount of staff time and energy on a daily basis in facilities, staff wellness is at the forefront of everyone’s mind. Without the typical days off or time away from the job, the need to care for Directors and facility staff is greater than ever. In addition to the Employee Assistance Services for health and mental health, North Dakota has implemented enhanced wellness practices to provide additional counseling resources to staff. This is accomplished by contracting with an established counselor who is available by appointment which makes access to help and support convenient and well-timed.