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By Reagan Daly, associate research director, and Ben Estep, research associate, Center on Youth Justice

High recidivism rates among New York State youth who have been incarcerated and released from state placement facilities are consistent with research indicating that institutional confinement grounded in punitive principles fails to reduce recidivism. Seeking effective responses to youth in custody, New York State’s Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) partnered with the Vera Institute of Justice and the Missouri Youth Services Institute (MYSI) to develop a regional model that is therapeutic, community-based, and focused on positive youth development. In the fall of 2010, the agency took these efforts a step further by planning and implementing a Brooklyn-based pilot of the new model—called the Brooklyn for Brooklyn Initiative (B4B).

B4B has a graduated continuum of placement environments located close to young people’s homes and communities and grounded in the therapeutic group-based practices MYSI developed in Missouri. Designed to meet the particular risks and needs of Brooklyn youth in OCFS custody, the B4B pilot continuum includes two placement settings─a nonresidential, day placement program at the City Challenge facility in Bedford-Stuyvesant, and a small, residential program at the Brooklyn Residential Center (BRC) in Crown Heights─each with the capacity to serve 20 youth in two groups of 10, and each linked with a robust menu of aftercare services.

A large part of Vera’s assistance on B4B has involved working collaboratively with OCFS and MYSI to design and implement the model continuum. As a second part of the planning and implementation process, Vera researchers have been working to build a research and evaluation capacity into B4B’s two programs. To date, this work has focused primarily on establishing basic data collection tools to track essential program processes. Now that a foundation has been laid, researchers are building on it through June 2012 with two new projects designed to help OCFS and program staff understand how the B4B model is being implemented and identify ways to enhance it over time.

The first of these projects is an assessment of the first stage of B4B implementation—the launch of BRC and City Challenge. The implementation assessment will explore how the new localized care model is being practiced in Brooklyn, with an emphasis on examining both how closely practices are following the model design and the successes and challenges of getting the two programs up and running. The overarching goal is to provide feedback to OCFS leaders and staff that will help them continue developing and refining the model over time. To collect information on all of these questions, Vera researchers will interview and observe people who are delivering or receiving B4B services—including program staff, family court judges, intake and reception workers, youth, and caregivers.

In the second project, Vera staff are working with OCFS to expand the range of community organizations available for working with Brooklyn youth, either while they are in B4B programming or when they transition back into the community. A great deal of this work to date has involved using geographic information systems (GIS) to better understand the Brooklyn youth population in OCFS custody and the communities from which they come and to which they will reenter. Vera researchers have identified and mapped more than a thousand community assets—including youth-related community-based organizations, after-school programs, health clinics, job and internship programs, mental health treatment centers, and recreational opportunities. Vera plans to expand on this work not only by transferring the existing maps to OCFS, but also by upgrading the maps’ format to one that is interactive, searchable, and easily navigable by B4B program staff looking to connect young people in their care to appropriate services.

Vera’s research efforts in support of B4B—both the initial implementation assessment and the identification of community assets—will also generate findings and lessons that can be used to build on and enhance the broader, regionalized model of juvenile placement toward which OCFS is moving and will help inform decisions about how to replicate it statewide.