There have been many media articles and individual conversations as of late, regarding the status and future of the programs for youth in the Juvenile Justice System in Nebraska. It is evident to me that if any change needs to occur, those involved in such a process adopt a ‘planned response’ change-management system. How you make major changes to systems deeply involves those providing the services, directly affecting those who are receiving the services.
I am aware that arguments in favor of making another change come from issues related to access to records/transparency of data and cost. While these are areas that indeed require attention, it would seem to me that these are manageable areas of concern. The access issue might just entail a legislative effort to clarify the differing policies regarding privacy amongst the courts, medical records, DHHS records and education records. The issue of cost is somewhat more complex. Yes, Probation has required additional funding, however, changing a ‘system’ is generally more expensive initially. I would venture to say that a second change and a third system to oversee Juvenile Justice in less than 2 years will not initially see any cost savings.
Whenever such a change is talked about, it creates unease and angst in those who are providing the work but have no control over what is happening. Even with terms used such as ‘seamless’, ‘minimal impact on staff’, etc. it does little to soothe the fears and anxieties felt by those who will be impacted. Reassignments, different supervisions, forms, reports, protocols, and even worries as to whether or not jobs will exist become issues weighing in the backs of the minds and the subconscious of the staff. Thankfully, the professionals delivering these services in our state will work very hard to minimize these thoughts as fears, however, they are real and persistent.
When the workforce is negatively affected, the service is affected. I use the term ‘negatively affected’ here because in my opinion, the change we are being told about is our knee-jerk reaction to a couple of issues, rather than managing those issues. I don’t believe we should move so quickly on changing a program that has shown good work and promise in just the first 16 months. Change, for the sake of change, is never a good thing, and change, based on emotion, is generally disastrous. Every other state in our great country has evidenced change in programs involving the welfare of children, families and juvenile justice. However, those other states are generally looking at Nebraska to see what mistakes we have made so they don’t do the same. Discussions with professional peers from across the United States generally revolves around “What is Nebraska doing now?”
I don’t believe that within a couple of months and a short legislative session, this plan to change can really be affected as it should. Perhaps our rhetoric ought to be that if we don’t see changes we would like to see with regards to access and cost, then we develop a plan to make effective change. But until that is done, and done well, the work being done on the 30,000 foot level, as it is often referred to, is not having a positive impact on what is going on down at ground level, where boots are on the ground.
We need to allow our current system the time to build some momentum and reach equilibrium, so we can look at the data and make data-driven adjustments to the system. Data that a new system costs more is not, in this case, data worth driving another change; all new systems cost more. Build on what was put in place 16 months ago and let that great work continue to show the positive impact it has had on our youth and their families already. Don’t speak in terms of ‘absolutes’, speak in terms of objectivity and collaboration to change the very few issues at the center of today’s debate. Our young people being served, and those serving our young people, deserve it.
Thomas G. McBride, M.S.
NJJA, Executive Director