Megan Branham Goes on DJJ “Behind the Fence” Tour

I’m a problem solver.

It more than likely has to do with the fact that I’m a first born, a social worker in the policy field and a mom, all roles that require the ability to solve problems daily, often at a moment's notice.

I enjoy finding solutions to complex problems and relish in the small wins. But sometimes those solutions aren’t easy to spot. Sometimes they are incredibly complex, complicated by human dynamics, tough-to-navigate systems and often woefully inadequate funding.

One new opportunity for problem solving became apparent when I had the chance to tour the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice facilities. The “behind the fence” tour included meetings with the acting director and staff, walking the halls of the on-site high school and visiting the Store of Hope where donated household items are refurbished by residents and proceeds go towards supporting the youth.

Their latest annual report touts many accomplishments, including increasing number of DJJ high school graduates from 38 in the 2014-2015 school year to 94 this past school year. Their recent South Carolina Legislative Audit Council report and testimony at House Oversight Committee highlight the challenges that remain. Like the child welfare system, the juvenile justice system is complicated. Outdated laws and old regulations often do more damage than the good they were intended to create.

On our tour, it was clear the immense passion and commitment staff bring to their jobs. The kids we met took pride in showing us around their school and telling us about their favorite classes, such as welding as well as their college/career goals, one student mentioned they wanted to be a marine biologist.

But as we rode the bus off campus away from a positive and uplifting tour, I felt this immense heaviness and sadness. I was struck by how much this campus, at least what we saw, felt like a perfect bubble. Beyond the chain-link, barbed-wire fence where the events that resulted in many of these kids arriving here, life still goes on, unfazed.

How do we stand in the gap when kids come back into our communities? Are we waiting with open arms? With jobs for them to use skills they have acquired? With a trauma-informed approach? What laws need to be changed to better address issues within the juvenile justice system?

Part of the solution may involve recognizing that there is a gap. The awareness of what exists and the reality of these kids’ lives. Part of starting our work might just be …
● Learning more about the emerging research about how trauma impacts brain development.
● How poverty and incarceration can impact educational attainment and future financial stability.
● Why minority kids are disproportionately represented in the juvenile justice system.
● Better understanding the intersection of child welfare and juvenile justice systems.

But then what? This problem solver would love to know.

PAFCAF’s mission is to provide education, support and leadership that strengthens the capacity of member agencies to produce positive outcomes for children and their families. Working alongside our members and new partners, like the Department of Juvenile Justice, we’d like to find ways to better the outcomes for children reentering our communities after their stay in juvenile detention. We welcome your feedback by emailing communications [at] PAFCAF.org.

 

Megan Branham is Director of Policy and Research for the Palmetto Association of Children and Families. Branham has a Masters in Social Work from the University of South Carolina and is a Licensed Master Social Worker. She has more than a decade of experience in various roles focused on family and child well-being with nonprofits across South Carolina.