Collaboration to keep youth in school, out of justice system

Caseworkers, the courts, educators and other partners are making progress in a collaboration to keep Michigan’s young people in school and out of the criminal justice system.

They are sharing accomplishments and discussing the important work that still needs to be done during the two-day 2015 Michigan School-Justice Partnership Statewide Forum that began Wednesday. The Michigan Departments of Health and Human Services, Education, and the Michigan Supreme Court, State Court Administrative Office, and the University of Michigan organized the event.

At the urging of Gov. Rick Snyder, leaders from across the state have been working on local plans to keep children in school and out of court following an earlier statewide forum held in September 2013.

The forum comes the same week that Snyder delivered a special message on the state’s criminal justice system, offering a plan make Michigan safer. His message included directing MDHHS to require quality metrics to measure performance from juvenile justice providers.

“It’s great to have representatives from every Michigan county working on solutions to a major problem,” said Steve Yager, executive director of the MDHHS Children’s Services Agency, one of the speakers at the forum being held at the Grand Traverse Resort.

Yager said the recent merger of the departments of Community Health and Human Services into MDHHS is intended to provide better and more coordinated services to Michiganders in need.

“The School-Justice Partnership is exactly the type of thing we have in mind when we talk about working together to focus on people’s needs and to remove barriers to success,” Yager said.

Pathways to Potential is an example of success in removing barriers. Chronic absenteeism at Pathways to Potential schools – which have MDHHS caseworkers located in schools to assist students with outside of school struggles – dropped 33 percent during the 2013-14 school year. Preliminary numbers for the current school year show Pathways is on track for its goal of reducing chronic absenteeism another 10 percent in the more than 200 schools that have success coaches.

“Keeping Michigan’s kids out of court and in school must be our goal,” said Michigan Supreme Court Justice Mary Beth Kelly, chair of the School-Justice Partnership. “That’s why the judiciary is collaborating with our partners from schools, MDHHS and other stakeholders to make sure our young people get the help and support they need to succeed.”

During breakout sessions at the forum, attendees heard from experts on topics such as community policing in schools, eliminating bullying, afterschool programs, homeless children and the value of mentoring.

For additional information about the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, visit www.michigan.gov/mdhhs.