Collective Impact Forum 11-22-17

Systems Change Strategies: From Theory to Practice

[Strategies for Youth’s Policing The Teen Brain in School training is mentioned under Lesson 3]

“Systems change approaches” have become a mantra of the social sector. Communities feel the frustration with being “resource-rich and coordination-poor.” But what does taking a systems approach look like in action? How can communities move beyond programs to influence attitudes and beliefs, improve coordination, and change policy?

The work of Operation Youth Success (OYS) to reduce school-based arrests as one area of focus in a larger juvenile justice effort offers a tangible example and concrete results.  None of the activities taken on by OYS required large amounts of funding or new programs. Rather, continuous communication drove alignment, shifted mindsets, and changed policies that contributed to school-based arrests declining by 50% from 2015-2016 (1).

Operation Youth Success is a collective impact initiative aimed at bringing people together to decide what aspects of juvenile justice in Douglas County, Nebraska need to change and how that change will happen. OYS was started by an urgency to reduce the number of youth involved in Douglas County’s juvenile justice system and improve the outcomes for those youth that were system-involved. In 2011, Douglas County’s juvenile arrest rate was 50% greater than the national rate (2)  – and nearly 95% of arrests were for non-violent crimes (3).

In the summer of 2014, a group of leaders representing juvenile probation, the county attorney’s office, the public defender’s office, juvenile court judges, juvenile justice service providers, education, nonprofits, social welfare agencies, and others were convened and agreed to an ambitious vision and goal statement. Engagement of other practitioners, families, and youth verified this vision and highlighted the school to prison pipeline as a high priority area of focus. Truancy represented nearly half of the juvenile cases reviewed by the county attorney (4) and hundreds of arrests were happening on school campuses (5). African-American students were disproportionately arrested at school. But the question remained: how could Douglas County address a problem that was influenced by so many complex factors, actors, policies, practices, and processes? The answer: convene a working group as a part of OYS’ larger effort that represented both the juvenile justice and school systems in one room. Lessons from this “schools” working group helped to make systems change tangible and concrete….

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