5 Things to Consider Regarding Reentry and Employment








By Sam Aspnes

I tell most people my first job was working the concession stand of a movie theater. In reality, my first job was being a part of my parents’ labor force. Despite legislation outlawing forced child labor, my parents flaunted the law and made me mow the lawn, clean the house, and (gasp) dig rocks out of the yard. Of course I realize now that work has helped me in many ways – although I would never admit that to my parents.

Employment breeds a sense of self-worth and accomplishment. It connects a person to their community. And honest work precludes adults and youth from having to make money in more “creative” ways.

For youth transitioning out of YRTCs or other out-of-home placements, finding and keeping a job is important for a successful transition back into the community. I talked with Mark Mason of Nebraska VR (Vocational Rehabilitation) and Jim Bennett, Program Specialist for Reentry at the Office of Probation Administration, about things to think about when helping youth get back to work. Here are the top 5:

1. Job placement and training services

For youth involved with the system, finding a job that fits is often a great obstacle. Placement services help youth not only find a job, but keep a job. Placement staff identify client job goals by looking closely at the client’s strengths, interests, and aptitudes. And if they require more training, program staff can set them up with technical or service training programs or post-secondary education options.

A few examples of Nebraska’s resources offering assistance with train-to-work and job placement services are Nebraska VR, the HUB’s Project Hire, Workforce Development – Workforce Investment Act (WIA), and YouthBuild USA. These providers teach job seekers how to look for a job – often through non-traditional methods. They also help with job application preparation and have partnerships with employers looking for qualified, trained workers.

Also, keeping a job is often harder than finding a job to begin with. Nebraska VR Program Director for Transition Services Mark Mason says following up with youth after they’ve found a job is crucial. A quick follow-up can smooth out disconnects between employers and employees and resolve interpersonal conflicts.

2. Informal supports and caring adults

Though often overlooked, one of the most important things to consider for any youth on reentry is a strong system of informal supports and caring adults in the lives of these young people. It is this support system of neighbors, friends, relatives, co-workers, teachers, and mentors that will support and sustain a young person when the other services and professional adults are either unavailable or no longer being used.

Services do not cure problems; communities and families do. Employment and job-finding services are a great way for youth to obtain employment, but if a young person can identify a trusted adult, that relationship will do more to help the youth retain that employment and achieve those other developmental outcomes desired for all youth in Nebraska.

3. Developing soft skills

Oftentimes, youth in reentry lack the “soft skills” necessary to fit in with a company culture and to work well with others. Soft skills – also known as “workforce readiness” skills – include communication, attitude, networking, teamwork, critical thinking, and personal habits. Visit the ODEP website to learn more.

Soft skills go a long way towards finding and retaining employment. Many of us learn these skills early on, and they’re often taken for granted. The organizations mentioned above all help with soft skills, but so should schools and adults. Improving soft skills should be addressed in every part of the reentry process.

4. Tech literacy and help for the emotionally, mentally, and physically disabled

Technology is advancing rapidly, and being capable and literate with that technology is often necessary to succeed in the modern workplace. Basic computer skills like using a keyboard, mouse and email, and having reliable access to the Internet all play a role – yet many who grew up in low-income families have none of these skills or resources.

Here is a free introductory online course to computer literacy provided by Microsoft.

Tech literacy is also critical for youth with emotional, mental, and physical disabilities. According to research from the National Disability Rights Network, an estimated 70 percent of justice-involved youth have disabilities, including psychiatric, mental health, sensory, and intellectual disabilities. Train-to-work programs offer assistance and solutions through adaptive technology.

5. Don’t forget education

While we want youth to be employed and learn those employment skills, obtaining an educational diploma will increase long-term employability and earning potential and will decrease the likelihood of recidivism and incarceration. So coordination around employment and education is crucial. One doesn’t take precedence over the other.

The connection between schools and employment is extensive. Schools themselves offer opportunities and supports for career readiness, and a youth’s school counselor can be an amazing resource. Many schools offer school credits for employment and will work with that youth’s school schedule to fit that employment.

Many of the job readiness programs that young people engage in have a school component built into them and many are targeted towards youth with an IEP or a 504 plan.

Balancing school and work is a struggle for most everyone engaged in both. When you add probation officers, case workers, treatment providers, and other external expectations of young people, it is no wonder we see those struggles with one or the other.


Sam Aspnes is an NJJA board member and graduate student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Journalism and Mass Communications.


Hope After Juvenile Detention? You Bet!

Olympia, Wash. – For kids wondering if they can ever recover from the mistakes of youth, they need look no further than the story of Starcia Ague. Despite a horrific childhood and a serious juvenile criminal history, Starcia now works for the President of the United States.

NJJA first came to know Starcia when she spoke at the 2012 Annual Conference. The advocate for youth speaks to people around the country and now works for Barack Obama. The president recently appointed the youth advocate to the Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice.

Starcia grew up in Washington State with a meth-dealer dad and a mom who kicked her out of the house at 11 years old. At 15, on orders from her mother, who had recently been robbed, Starcia participated in a violent act of retribution. As a result, she spent five years in juvenile detention.

Follow the link below to view a documentary by TVW showing how this impressive woman turned her life around.

Video: https://bit.ly/starcia

My Weekend at Camp

Camp Catch Up guests canoe on the camp's pond
By Amy West, Nebraska Appleseed

“So, what did you do this weekend?”

Usually, I don’t have a great answer for this popular Monday morning question. Hmmm… I played with my cats, read a little, did some yard work, went for a run, maybe went out to dinner… Yup, that pretty much summarizes a typical weekend in my life.

A few weeks ago, however, my answer was a little different: “I had an amazing, incredibly heartwarming, life-altering experience!” What might that experience be, you ask? I went to camp.

Camp Catch-Up, through the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation (NCFF), is a one-of-a kind, annual camp that brings together siblings separated by foster care or adoption for three days of pure, unbridled childhood fun. Free of cost to the youth, Camp Catch-Up reunites siblings ages 8-19 who may not have seen each other for weeks, months, or even years and gives them a chance to “catch up.”

Typically, two camps are held each year – one in the western area of the state and one in the eastern. Due to popular demand, three camps were offered this year. This June marked my fifth year at Camp Catch-Up, and I can’t wait to head back next year.

On June 26th, sibling groups as small as two or as large as seven (or sometimes even larger!) from all across Nebraska met at Camp Maranatha in North Platte for a weekend of fun. Each of us staff members are assigned one sibling group, who we stick with from the moment they step off the bus on Thursday evening to the moment they step back on Sunday afternoon.

Our ultimate goal for the weekend is really pretty simple: make sure our kids have the best weekend ever. The amazing NCFF staff responsible for organizing Camp Catch-Up make this pretty easy for us. Siblings can enjoy a number of fun bonding activities, including creating and racing cardboard “family cars,” encouraging each other on the ropes courses, and getting a professional picture taken while wearing matching sibling shirts. And of course there are plenty of other, more traditional camp activities for some plain old fun: swimming time, canoeing, archery, and hiking.

Camp Catch-Up allows these siblings, many of whom have had to grow up WAY too fast, a brief solace to forget their everyday worries and just be kids. Better yet, their siblings are right alongside them, making memories they will never, ever forget.

And the staff carry those memories as well. The number of staff who make time in their busy schedules to keep coming back to camp year after year is pretty incredible. We arrange trips around it, skip important meetings for it, and even factor it into major life decisions (wedding dates, flexibility of new job opportunities).

So what keeps us all coming back? What makes this camp feel like such a life-changing experience? It’s the simple moments, really. It’s hearing one of my kids say that they haven’t had this much fun in years, seeing one rest their head on the other’s shoulder during our nightly campfire, or watching them finally put their sibling bickering to the side and run their hearts out at the Family Cars Race. It’s the incredible sense of pride and affection I suddenly begin to feel toward these kids I only just met two days before. The most rewarding times by far, though, are the “hellos,” when they’re both so incredibly ecstatic to see each other again and beyond excited (albeit a little nervous) to see what camp holds for them, and the “goodbyes,” when you watch them hug, not wanting to let go, as they know that means the weekend is over. Moments like those are what make Camp Catch-Up different from every other weekend camp out there. Moments like those are what keep me coming back.

Each year as camp draws to a close, I convince myself that the “goodbyes” won’t be as bad. We’re all tired, smelly, and clearly ready for a break from the wilderness. One extended hug and an “I’ll miss you” later, though, and I’m a goner.

Even now, as I picture their tearful faces waving at me from the bus as it drives away, I can’t wait to hear that wonderful chant once again…

Get up early
Ride the bus
All the way
To Camp Catch-Up
‘Cause there’s no place that I’d rather be
Than here at Camp Catch-Up with my siblings and me
August can’t come soon enough.



This blog post was originally published at the Nebraska Appleseed Blog in July 2012 and has been updated with permission from the author.

How It All Went Down: 2014 NJJA Conference

NJJA President Mike Renn talks with guests in the vendor area.

By Monica Miles-Steffens

On behalf of the Nebraska Juvenile Justice Association Board, I would like to sincerely thank everyone who came together for the 2014 Annual NJJA Conference!  We can soundly say that this year’s conference was bigger and better than ever, and we owe it all to the hardworking men and women who attend this conference year after year.  It was great to hear from one attendee who said, “Sometimes people leave conferences and they feel drained, but people left this conference ready to implement ideas that they heard and excited about their work.”

There were some new additions to the conference this year including a change in venue, the showing of Kids for Cash right in the main ballroom sponsored by Voices for Children, a tour of the YRTC Kearney, more CEU’s across disciplines, and increased use of technology through Twitter and Facebook.  Please also take the time to check out the NJJA Flickr page for all of the conference photos.

We welcomed nationally known speakers Judge Steve Teske, Sharon Wise and Eddie Slowikowski.  Their presentations were full of information, emotion and inspiration.  We work hard to bring you breakout sessions that highlight the great work happening right here in Nebraska, and this year was no exception.  We heard about state and local reform, trauma, mental health and substance use topics, self care, crossover youth, gangs and more!  One participant said, “There was a good variety of topics…things for the heart and things for the brain.” And of course, we could only bring in such amazing speakers with support from the Children and Family Foundation, Regional Prevention Coalitions I, IV & V and the Sherwood Foundation.

One of the highlights of every conference is recognizing outstanding professionals for their work and leadership.  Joanna Lindberg of Heartland Family Service in Omaha was awarded the Evelyn Labode Service to Youth Award. Treva Haugaard, Executive Director of the Goals Center in Omaha received this year’s Leadership Award, and Giselle Armendariz, a student at UNL was recognized as the NJJA scholarship winner. This year NJJA also recognized the work of Senators Brad Ashford and Bob Krist for their tireless efforts and ongoing support of juvenile justice reform in Nebraska.

And we have to mention our exciting move to the Younes Conference Center. We heard great feedback from the nearly 400 participants and 35 exhibitors. This move was made possible in part by our top sponsors:  Community Based Services Inc., Boy’s Town, UNO Criminal Justice Department, Cedars, KVC, Abraxas and Omni Behavioral Health.

So again, we thank you for your ongoing support and attendance at the NJJA conference.  If you have never been, make sure to mark your calendar for next year.  May 6 – 8th, 2015h we will be back at the Younes Conference Center in Kearney and we are planning some amazing things to celebrate 40 years of NJJA!  We look forward to seeing you there.

Burns Proves Spirit of Youth

Pictured above, from left to right: Award Nominator, Judge Vernon Daniels; Award Recipient, Thomas Burns; and NCJJ Chair, Cassy Rockwell.

Lincoln, NE — The Nebraska Coalition of Juvenile Justice honored Thomas Burns with the 2014 Spirit of Youth Award. Burns was recognized for using his experiences in the Juvenile Justice system to give back to youth involved in the system and to strive towards personal goals.

Burns became involved in the Juvenile Justice system as a teen due to involvement with drugs. He recalls his time in intensive treatment programs, drug court, and probation without bitterness. Judge Vernon Daniels, who nominated Thomas for the award, said in his nomination letter, “[Thomas] regularly tells how grateful he is to his treatment team, probation officer, attorney, and most especially his judge, the Honorable Lawrence Gendler. Thomas reports that they saved him… From their example, he has learned to never give up on others. He often tells me to give that [additional] chance.”

In March, Burns celebrated his fourth year of sobriety. He gives back at his local Chip Night events by celebrating sobriety birthdays and providing mentorship to his peers.

Since completing probation, Thomas has achieved a great deal. He overcame academic setbacks to graduate high school, received an academic transfer degree from Metropolitan Community College (MCC), and enrolled at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. He hopes to pursue a degree in political science, attend law school, and become President of the United States.

While at MCC, Burns won a seat on the Student Advisory Council. His commitment to running a true campaign inspired others to run, resulting in the largest student voting turnout in MCC’s history. He has used these skills to serve on a state candidate’s campaign and wishes to continue exploring politics with an internship in Washington, D.C.

Burns was originally honored at the Nebraska Juvenile Justice Association’s Annual Conference on May 8, but was unable to attend. The NCJJ celebrated him at their public coalition meeting in Lincoln on June 6, 2014.  Upon receiving the award and a $500 scholarship, Burns stated, “Thank you. I’m so grateful and honored to even be considered.”

Nebraska Juvenile Justice Reform Update

By Jim Bennett, Reentry Program Specialist, Office of Probation Administration

Juvenile justice reform is well underway in the State of Nebraska with the passage of Legislative Bill 561 introduced by Sen. Brad Ashford (I-Omaha) in May 2013. LB 561 moved all supervision of delinquent juveniles from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Office of Juvenile Services (OJS) to Nebraska’s Office of Probation Administration. Along with that move came $14.5 million to be spent on new services for youth along with a grant program to aid counties focusing on the developing of front-end services for youth. The changes are intended to decrease the dependency on juvenile detention center stays, place more emphasis on rehabilitation, increase family engagement, and provide more services at the community level.

There are several distinct benchmarks for the implementation of several major components of the bill:

July 1, 2013

  • Youth sent to the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Centers (YRTC) are placed in the care and custody of the OJS with an order of Intensive Supervised Probation.
  • Limitations are set on sending juveniles to secure detention and the YRTCs. Juveniles can only be sent if it is a matter of immediate and urgent need for the protection of the juvenile, protection of others or their property, or if the juvenile is likely to flee jurisdiction.
  • All YRTC commitments will be subject to juvenile court jurisdiction and the reentry process upon discharge from the YRTC.

October 1, 2013

  • OJS authority for new community supervision and evaluations has been eliminated.
  • The DHHS option for status offenders has been eliminated.
  • Probation Administration is responsible for the cost of detention for any juvenile who is post-disposition pending placement, held on a motion to revoke, or on probation at the time of intake.
  • Juvenile evaluations must be completed and returned to the court within 21 days when ordered. OJS evaluations are no longer required and more single-focused evaluations will be the focus.
  • Community and family reentry process is underway for juveniles leaving the YRTCs. The program is being implemented through cooperation between the OJS and Probation Administration. Reentry planning begins at intake to the YRTC, and the facility gives the court and probation a 60-day notification of discharge to adequately prepare for discharge.
  • All new dispositions of law violators and status offenders will be placed with Probation for supervision and service delivery including all costs of service and evaluations. There are no more new commitments to DHHS/OJS.
  • The court has the authority to order needed voluntary services with Probation supervision or service delivery for juveniles charged with law violations and/or 3Bs.
No later than April 1, 2014
  • A formal transition process will be implemented and any cases involving law violators or status offenders remaining with DHHS/OJS will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis by Probation and DHHS/OJS, and an individual transition will be created and adopted with court approval.

In addition, the Nebraska Crime Commission added two new positions to oversee the Community Based Aid funding and Diversion services statewide. Community Based Aid replaced the old “County Aid” funding at the Crime Commission and increased funding to $5 million. Applications for this funding were recently submitted to the Crime Commission for review.

Change of this magnitude can be difficult, but system stakeholders statewide have been working collaboratively to provide training, interpretation, development of services and, most importantly, seamless transition of services for youth and their families. As the Legislature moves into this year’s short session, there will be efforts made to help clarify some of the inevitable questions that have arisen with regards to implementation of the reform since July of last year.

Though this process has not been without bumps along the way, the State of Nebraska remains committed to better outcomes for Nebraska youth and safer communities.