The Emotional State of Poverty: A Powerful Photo Essay

by Susan Richardson

Last week, published a powerful photo essay illustrating the emotional state of poverty in Troy, NY.

Photo credit:

You may be thinking, “What does the emotional state of poverty mean?”

Photographer Brenda Ann Kenneally captured this in her visual narrative featured on As a native of Troy who struggled with teen pregnancy, drugs and an unstable living environment, Kenneally returned to her hometown after getting sober and studying photojournalism to capture what she experienced as an emotional state of poverty. She explains,

“Poverty is an emotional (rather than simply) physical state with layers of marginalization that cements those who live under them into place.”

We often see this emotional marginalization in at-risk teens, which can propel the cycle of drugs, alcohol and crime. To minimize this impact, Reclaiming Futures sites implement several programs to ensure teens feel supported. A few examples are:

  • Mentors and natural helpers who are matched with young people with similar interests
  • Promising Artists in Recovery program (PAIR), which is a series of workshops for teens to exercise creative outlets
  • Internships and job shadowing in partnership with community stakeholders

Through community partnerships and creative outlets, we can ensure that more at-risk youths feel supported, motivated and not alone.

Recapping the 2014 Georgetown Training Institutes

by Cora Crary

National HarborLast week I traveled to National Harbor, Maryland to attend the 2014 Georgetown University Training Institutes on improving services and supports for children, adolescents, and young adults with or at risk for mental health challenges and their families, along with Reclaiming Futures Fellowship Program Manager, Christa Myers.

This year the conference theme was, “Improving Children’s Mental Health Care in an Era of Change, Challenge and Innovation: The Role of the System of Care Approach” with an estimated attendance of 2,000. Below are my key takeaways.

The Youth Movement Has Arrived

Youth MOVE arrivesThere was a great youth track at the conference – and more often than not you could hear fellow attendees in the hallways saying that these sessions were better than any others they had attended.

Youth MOVE Rockstar AwardsBoth Youth M.O.V.E. National and local Youth M.O.V.E. chapters were well represented, along with many other youth organizations from around the country.  On Thursday night the 2014 recipients of the Youth MOVE Rockstar Awards were announced. The recipients were:

  • Niketa Currie, Youth M.O.V.E. North Carolina was named the 2014 Tricialouise Gurley-Millard Youth Advocate
  • Dr. JoAnne Malloy,  Institute On Disabilties was named the 2014 Dr. Gary M. Blau Professional of the Year
  • The Kentucky Partnership for Families and Children was named the 2014 Youth Guided Organizational Rockstar
  • Bruce Brumfield, Center for Community Alternatives was named the 2014 Marlene Matarese Advocate for Youth was named the 2014
  • Youth M.O.V.E. Miami was named the 2014 National Chapter
  • Gregory Foster was given the first ever Honorary Rockstar award for his continued dedication to youth and young adults who struggle with poverty and behavioral health needs.

And a special shout out to Youth M.O.V.E. Saginaw for contributing the soundtrack.


The Power of Storytelling
Homeboy Industries at Georgetown InstitutesStorytelling is critical for organizations dealing with complex issues. The Power of Story Telling: Digital Voices in a Digital Age was a special presentation on the first day of the conference. This session showcased first person narrative video stories by youth from Washington state’s Youth N Action.  

Opportunity Board Roundup: Juvenile Justice Grants, Jobs, Webinars and Events

by LJ Hernandez

opportunityBelow you’ll find a selection of the latest grants, jobs, webinars and events posted to our Opportunity Board. Please share the Reclaiming Futures Opportunity Board with your colleagues in the juvenile justice, adolescent substance abuse and teen mental health areas. It’s free to browse and post!




New Study Provides Insight Into Early Indicators of Alcohol Misuse Among Teens

by Cecilia Bianco

teendrinkingFindings of a recent study published in Natureclaim that it is possible to predict which teens will likely become binge drinkers. The study, “Neuropsychosocial Profiles of Current and Future Adolescent Alcohol Misusers,” found that several factors can help predict future substance abuse:

  • Genetics
  • Brain function
  • Personality traits
  • History

The researchers of the study took brain scans of about 700 14-year-olds from all over Europe and analyzed their personality traits, life experiences, genetics, and drinking habits. Two years later, the researchers followed up with the now 16-year-old teens and found that the above factors served as indicators of future unhealthy drinking habits.

These results lead researchers to believe they may be able to develop a tool to accurately predict who is prone to abusing alcohol—knowledge that will allow them to better help people avoid addiction.

Hugh Garavan, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Vermont and the study’s senior author, says more research is need before a tool like this can be created.

“Still, this does bring us one step closer to understanding the roots of addiction,” Garavan said.

The researchers will continue to check in with the teenagers of the study to monitor their drinking habits. The participants of this study were all white European teenagers, thus further research will likely be focused on different ethnic groups.

There’s Still Time to Upgrade Your Juvenile Drug Court; News Roundup

by Cecilia Bianco

News-oldTV-smlJuvenile Justice Reform

  • From Prison to Politics: Prophet Walker’s Journey (JJIE)
    “When I walked in to Ironwood and they called my name to go up to speak, the entire place erupted with people screaming and cheering,” former inmate–and now candidate for state office–Prophet Walker recounts. “When I walked away, people were saying that I had inspired them. These are people who have life sentences and to have them say I inspired them was great. It was really moving.”

Webinar: Toolkit for Status Offense System Reform

by Susan Richardson

VeraVera Institute of Justice’s Center on Youth Justice will host a one-hour, free webinar on July 29 to outline the third module of its Toolkit for Status Offense System Reform — a four-step guide to activating community-rooted solutions for troubled youth.

Like Reclaiming Futures, Vera’s Center on Youth Justice works with policymakers and practitioners to reduce the number of youths entering the justice system, turning instead to a community-based and family-focused approach. Youths who have committed status offenses, such as running away from home, skipping school or alcohol consumption, are most at-risk for entering the juvenile court and subject to entering detention centers.

This toolkit can help change this. This useful webinar will outline the third module in the toolkit: Planning and Implementing Status Offense System Change. We’ll also hear two case studies of successful system reform from two jurisdictions — Connecticut and Campbell County, KY— that will identify potential roadblocks and how to overcome them.

If you missed part one and two of the series, read up on previous modules in the toolkit:

Register here.


Reflections from the “Ensuring Positive Futures and Academic Success” Summit

by Wade Melton

On June 10, 2014, I had the honor and privilege to be invited to present at an invitation only summit focused on “Ensuring Positive Futures and Academic Success: Student Substance Use and Educational Success” hosted by Acting Director Michael Botticelli and Deputy Director David Mineta, of the Office of National Drug Control Policy Executive Office of the President, and Deborah S. Delisle, Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education, United States Department of Education.

ONDCP SummitThis day long event was held at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington D.C. Additional guests engaging in this national debate included leaders from OJJDP, SAMHSA, NIDA, ACF, NIH, Department of Defense, Department of Agriculture, legislative aids, researchers, and many others from around the nation, including Reclaiming Futures National Executive Director, Susan Richardson.

The story I shared was about Hardin County and how the Reclaiming Futures six-step model is integrated into our work system wide. Our story is about intentionally transforming our local juvenile justice system to go way beyond probation supervision and accountability.

The court has implemented validated screening and assessment tools, evidence based treatment models, brought a school on site, and cross-trained staff so everyone (academics, treatment, probation, and judge) speaks the same language.

Some of our best assets are community engagement and stakeholder development. Our local university provides student teachers to help our students with their academic deficiencies, interns to work with our justice kids, and faculty and staff helping with evaluation and support. Our community stakeholders provide internships, job shadowing possibilities, health education, financial literacy education, and financial support (donations and event support).

During my presentation at the summit I shared G.A.I.N. data showing a significant reduction in substance use among our justice kids. This data shows:

  • Our justice kids have gone from substance use of 14 or more days per 90 days to 80% who are no longer using at 12 months post intake,
  • Those who are still using are using less than once a week, and
  • The risk level for continued illegal activity among our justice kids has dropped from mid-high to low.

More Treatment…Better Treatment…Beyond Treatment is the best way to explain the results.

Opportunity Board Roundup: Juvenile Justice Grants, Jobs, Webinars and Events

by Cecilia Bianco

opportunityBelow you’ll find a selection of the latest grants, jobs, webinars and events posted to our Opportunity Board. Please share the Reclaiming Futures Opportunity Board with your colleagues in the juvenile justice, adolescent substance abuse and teen mental health areas. It’s free to browse and post!





The Story of “Jane Doe:” A Claim for Rehabilitation, Not Incarceration

by Cecilia Bianco

janedoeimageAlmost 70,000 teens are incarcerated on any given day. Among incarcerated young girls with a life sentence, 77 percent have reported sexual abuse. Author Nicholas Kristof gives insight into this issue in a recent New York Times article, referencing the story of “Jane Doe” who has spent her life in and out of the juvenile justice system.

Both at home and in the juvenile system, Jane suffered years of sexual abuse and violence. After two months of isolation in an adult prison, Jane was moved to a girls’ detention center in Middletown, Conn., with the goal to provide her care that will ideally lead to placement in a loving foster-care family, which is what those around her know she needs:

“All I wanted was someone to tell me they loved me, that everything would be all right,” Jane says in the affidavit. “But that never happened.”

Kristof emphasizes that Jane’s story is a prime example of a larger issue within the juvenile justice system:

“We systematically over-rely on the criminal justice toolbox to deal with youths, rather than on social services or education. The United States incarcerates children at a rate that is 10 or 20 times higher than in some other industrial countries.”

Kristof, among other experts, believe stories like Jane’s can be prevented through programs that provide stability, education and safety to at-risk children from a young age. Programs that focus on rehabilitation rather than incarceration. Programs like Reclaiming Futures.

Team Sports Help Lower Stress and Depression Among Teens; News Roundup

by Cecilia Bianco

News-oldTV-smlJuvenile Justice Reform

  • Juvenile Justice Reforms Prominent in New Bill by U.S. Senators Booker and Paul (JJIE)
    Two first-term senators from opposite sides of the aisle introduced legislation Tuesday banning the use of juvenile solitary confinement in federal facilities, along with several other reforms that would impact juveniles offenders.

  • Natalie Kato: Reform for Juvenile Sentencing (Tallahassee Democrat)
    By requiring that most kids under 18 sentenced to 25 years or longer for murder receive a review of their sentences, the bill effectively halts one of the state of Florida’s ugliest criminal justice practices: the sentencing of children to spend the rest of their lives in prison with no hope of release.

  • Counseling Should Be a Part of Any Juvenile Crime Reforms (Chicago Sun-Times)
    “If poor people don’t have opportunity, don’t have hope, don’t have a future, they are going to lash out. If they only have baseball bats, they would be using those. This is about racism, classism and oppression and oppressed people boil over,” said William Sampson, chairperson of the Public Policy Studies Department at DePaul University.