A forest is more than a collection of individual trees. Each tree is connected by a “mycorrhizal network,” a system which connects individual plants together to transfer water, nitrogen, carbon and other minerals. Each tree--the forest itself--learns and innovates from the others to grow strong.

The Reimagining the Youth Justice Workforce Innovation Network

The Reimagining Youth Justice Workforce Innovation Network will support youth justice system officials and partners to develop, study, and share strategies aimed at addressing the field’s current staffing challenges, including strategies designed to fundamentally transform systemic structures, policies, practices, and approaches.​​​​​ With the support of OJJDP’s Juvenile Justice System Reform Initiative, participants’ tuition for the Innovation Network is provided at no cost to the selected jurisdictions.

Contact Amber.Farn@georgetown.edu (new window) if you have any questions!

Building upon the findings from Systems in Crisis: Rethinking the Juvenile Justice Workforce and Foundation Strategies for Improving Public Safety and Youth Outcomes (new window), the Innovation Network is part of a larger project responding to the longstanding staffing challenges that youth justice agencies have faced, a struggle heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic. Front-line staff, entrusted with the well-being of high-needs youth, contend with overwhelming demands, resulting in burnout and high turnover. Insufficient compensation, coupled with inadequate training and support, exacerbates the issue. While many agencies are looking to make their systems more rehabilitative, they face an identity crisis as their policies and practices do not align with a developmentally appropriate therapeutic approach, ultimately undermining the integrity of the entire youth justice system. Despite widespread acknowledgment of the severity of staffing challenges, a clear strategy to address them remains elusive. This intricate web of issues requires a comprehensive approach to foster a resilient youth justice workforce and system.

The Innovation Network unfolds over a one-year period of online engagement, featuring four foundational sessions designed to explore strategies to transform systems, five individual follow-up technical assistance (TA) meetings, and two cohort-wide convenings to share progress and lessons learned.

As part of this Network, participants will develop and implement an action plan to improve system-wide staff hiring and retention initiatives. This plan, acting as a guide for sustainable system transformation, delineates short- and long-term steps with concrete strategies, deliverables, timelines, and resource requirements, as well as anticipated challenges and solutions. An action plan template will be provided as part of this process, and a dedicated TA provider will guide participating teams to refine and actionize their efforts through remote bi-monthly meetings following the foundational sessions. By the program’s conclusion, participants will have a set of innovative and creative strategies to address staffing challenges that can be implemented within their individual jurisdictions.

The four online foundational sessions will run for four consecutive months starting in April 2024.

Following the four foundational sessions, participants will meet every other month with their designated technical assistance lead to discuss existing efforts and new ideas to transform systems and recruit/retain staff. These bi-monthly meetings, which will occur in August 2024, October 2024, December 2024, February 2025, and April 2025, will serve as collaborative platforms to discuss ongoing initiatives and generate new ideas for transforming systems and enhancing staff recruitment/retention efforts. Coordination for these meetings will be facilitated between each participating jurisdiction and their designated TA provider.

Two cohort-wide convenings, scheduled for November 2024 and April 2025, will provide opportunities to bring the participating jurisdictions together for cross-site sharing. Details of these two virtual gatherings will be communicated at a later date.

The Innovation Network initiative recognizes the pressing need to transform systems and address critical challenges in recruiting and retaining staff within the youth justice sector. The curriculum is designed to help jurisdictions identify innovative approaches to enhance their youth justice workforce, fostering a transformative vision for the future. Over the course of a year, agency leaders and policymakers will engage in a series of virtual sessions designed to explore, develop, and refine strategies that not only envision, but actively shape a new and more effective youth justice workforce. 

The curriculum includes the following sessions: 

Session 1: Establishing Short-Term Strategies to Mitigate the Workforce Crisis (1-4pm ET on Monday, April 22, 2024)

The Innovation Network kicks off with a session identifying tools and short-term strategies that jurisdictions can utilize to mitigate the workforce crisis as they develop longer-term solutions. Grounded in research on effective practices for system-involved youth, participants will collaboratively explore short-term goals that address the skills, qualifications, and core functions of their workforce. This session also sets the stage for a comprehensive understanding of the transformative potential within participants’ agencies and the youth justice field more broadly.

Session 2: Transforming Systems to Create Innovative Staffing Strategies (1-4pm ET on Thursday, May 23, 2024)

To reimagine the youth justice workforce, leaders must also reimagine the youth justice systems that they operate so they are better designed and equipped to achieve positive outcomes for youth, families, and communities. In this session, participants will explore what an optimal youth justice system entails and the types of long-term transformative efforts that will help address the staffing crisis. The session will also examine dimensions of leading effective system transformation efforts, such as articulating a clear agency mission and vision, and cultivating an agency culture that values investment in community-based services, collaboration across youth-serving systems, and authentic partnerships with lived experts, including youth, families, and community leaders. This session aims to lay the groundwork for a more supportive and impactful youth justice system.

Session 3: Recruiting Staff (1-4pm ET on Wednesday, June 26, 2024)

Building on Sessions 1 and 2, this session focuses on the practicalities of effective staff recruitment, particularly in the face of the current realities and challenges facing the field. Participating jurisdictions will explore strategies on how to best identify and recruit staff, including efforts around leading impactful communications initiatives, creating compelling position descriptions, partnering with credible messengers, and collaborating with educational institutions for recruitment.

Session 4: Retaining Staff (1-4pm ET on Wednesday, July 31, 2024)

Retention is a critical aspect of a thriving and fulfilled youth justice workforce. This session addresses the challenges of staff retention, and strategies to address those challenges, including the creation of workplace environments that prioritize wellness and peer support, professionalizing the youth justice field through training, offering opportunities for career advancement, and recognizing staff contributions. Together, these strategies and others can contribute to a system that values and retains its crucial personnel.

Bi-Monthly Meetings

Following these foundational sessions facilitated by CSG, CJJR, and UCCI, selected jurisdictions will embark on a nine-month exploration and implementation phase. Through bi-monthly meetings (meeting every other month) with their TA provider, participants will share progress, insights, and new ideas. 

The ultimate goal of the Innovation Network is to compile a set of innovative strategies for addressing staffing challenges, which will be documented in a lessons learned brief developed by CSG, CJJR, and UCCI and disseminated widely through a national webinar. Together, participants will shape a new narrative for youth justice, one that prioritizes transformative workforce strategies and impacts not only individual jurisdictions, but also the broader landscape of youth justice across the nation.

Up to eight (8) county, state, and/or tribal jurisdictions will be selected to participate in the Innovation Network. Each team will need to submit one online application by 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday, March 6, 2024 (in the applicant’s local time zone). The full RFA (with links to the application) will be released at the end of January and will include more information.

Team composition is a key consideration in the application review process. Successful applications will propose teams composed of individuals who hold decision-making authority and have the ability to influence workforce strategies within their agencies. Each team should be composed of a maximum of ten leaders and partners from the participating jurisdiction, including individuals positioned to inform and lead system transformation efforts. Jurisdictions are encouraged to apply as multi-disciplinary teams with representation from multiple youth justice agencies. 

Team members encouraged to participate include:

  • Youth justice agency executive team leaders (e.g., director, deputy directors)
  • Youth justice agency training directors
  • Youth justice agency human resources staff
  • Youth justice agency communications directors
  • Youth justice agency supervisors and front-line staff (representing facility and field, as well as various disciplines, such as custody/community supervision, education, and behavioral health)
  • Community partners (e.g., community service providers)
  • Youth and family representatives

While the recommendations detailed above should guide the team composition, the exact composition of the teams will depend on the jurisdiction applying.

Working parallel with the Innovation Network to address this staffing crisis is the 2024 Transformative Leadership Vanguard: Cultivating Leadership in Front-Line Youth Justice Staff for Systemic Change, a 10-month collective training summit designed for front line staff with ongoing training and technical assistance. The Transformative Leadership Vanguard responds to a system-wide need for transformation by developing organizational champions at the front-line level of juvenile justice.​​​​​​​

You can learn more about this opportunity on the UCCI site!

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About the image: A forest is more than a collection of individual trees. Each tree is connected by a “mycorrhizal network,” a system which connects individual plants together to transfer water, nitrogen, carbon and other minerals. Each tree—the forest itself—learns and innovates from the others to grow strong.