After the Webinar: Kids at Hope. Q&A with Stacy Ledvina

Webinar presenter Stacy Ledvina answered a number of your questions after her presentation, Kids at Hope: Believing, Connecting and Time Travelling in Youth Justice.    Here are just a few of her responses.



Audience Question: How do you recommend agencies implement or change their culture to adopt a Kids at Hope philosophy?  

Stacy Ledvina:   It started off with a lot of education. In general, I believe, people in our profession, that work with youth or work with families are hopefully doing this because they have some sort of ability to work with people. For those individuals who are in this type of profession and are not, sort of interested in that, they typically weave their way out fairly quickly. But most people have some interest in working with people and so I’ve been able to use that sort of level of interest and people skills that the individuals have to be able to provide them with the research about what Kids at Hope says about why these 3 things are so important: believing, connecting, and time traveling. And it’s certainly not a transformation that happens overnight. It’s really about educating and learning and growing along the way. I can tell you there are some days that I might not be a “10,” but I do know that I have co-workers who would say to me “Gee, that doesn’t sound like a ten coming out of you today, what’s going on” or “maybe I need to think about this situation a little bit more, come back and talk about this later.” Because the reality is, it’s a level that we can hold each other to. So what we did early on is we did a cultural scan and we looked at what our people believe about themselves, about our agency and their co-workers. I just used those 3 questions. And the book, Youth Development from the Trenches that Rick Miller wrote, talks about additional questions that you could ask. But I just started with those 3 and we share that information out to say this is what we’re seeing, this is what the Gallup poll tells us about what kids in grades 5 through 12 are thinking. It’s a starting point to begin seeing the success that you’re making in changing those numbers, closer and closer to 10 as you go. So it’s really about planting seeds. It’s about a journey you don’t become Kids at Hope tomorrow like we’re going to do that on January 1. It’s about really reinforcing and educating people so that they understand why the philosophy is important and then the handouts that I gave you, talk about high 5 practices to reinforcing those beliefs. So there is the belief in general, there are pledges, and I read treasure hunter’s pledge to you, you can learn more about that. There’s looking at giving report cards to use particularly to what their intelligences are and developing their potential, talking about their future through a “passport.” And then the final way to really document that is to track the youth’s caring adults. So for instance, one of our school districts, they came together at the beginning of the year and discussed every single kid in the school. “I want to know who has a connection with that kid?” If that kid’s name came up and nobody had a connection then somebody agreed to be the person to make that connection. Because those connections are so important. And it doesn’t work quite that way for us (youth justice) but what have done,  like I mentioned earlier is ensure that anytime we’re talking about support planning or discharge planning with kids from any of our programs we have them identify who those meaningful people are in their lives. If they struggle with that we work to help them find those individuals as part of their support in discharge planning.



Audience Question: You talked about how we would rate our co-workers, many of the audience thought the co-workers were kind of on that lower side of things, how do we turn things around so that more of us believe in our kids and are more at that 8, 9, 10 levels that you were discussing. 

Stacy Ledvina:  It’s totally true when you look at the cultural scans, Kids at Hope can use their little computer system to do this for you if you want to hire them to do that. The reality is we do that individually and I had some of our school districts do it as well. People do tend to rate exactly that way. My number’s the highest, my co-workers are lower than me, my agency’s even lower than that and when I look at parents or community a lot of times, unfortunately, is even lower than that. The reality is, first of all being aware of that. So, it has given us the ability again to have that common language because if I believe that kids can succeed, and I don’t see if my co-workers do, I actually have the responsibility to work with them and to confront them if it’s a situation where I feel like they are being  a barrier to a kid being hopeful. So it’s not always the easiest thing to do but it’s an important thing and it’s important to have that data because as you hopefully do your cultural scan over time you will see those numbers changing. We don’t want the implementation of trauma-informed practices to be disciplinary, but it definitely plays a role in performance management. Having conversations with people about professional growth, it is a very good talking tool about what you can do to improve as an employee within our agency. So not that you’re going to be penalized if you aren’t a 10 in a scale of 1-10, but if you’re only an 8 I want to look at what is it that I can do as a supervisor to help you move to a 9 and then to help you move to a 10. So is it training that I can provide for you, is it when we’re talking about specific cases ensuring that I am coming back to how you are believing, connecting and time traveling with that individual so that I can work with my staff to move forward on that scale. And it’s that something you can do with co-workers as well and the more that you have individuals sort of joining on in your effort, the more those outliers are going to feel uncomfortable with that. And typically what we see is that those individuals who really struggle and unable to see that belief system tend to find other employment because they’re just not happy in what they’re doing in an agency that believes in kids. So we talked about believing. It is believing and then there’s that sort of that next level. So my very first slide talks about believing, believed and practiced here. So sometimes we believe in things but then it’s the implementation practice-wise that looks a little bit different. I know you all can’t see me but I believe in exercising and nutrition. If you could see me, you might say – I don’t know if you practice that quite as well as what you believe in it. Because what reality is, I like McDonalds and ice cream too, so that tends to get in my way. So I very much believe that I shouldn’t eat those things but it’s not always the way I practice. When you think about Kids at Hope, it isn’t just about believing, it’s about practicing as well. And you practice by connecting, you practice by time travel and so it’s an ongoing effort to help people move down that scale and advance on their journey.



Audience Question: Talk through a little bit more about that. You talked about how peers can challenge each other to grow more in their belief system. To be and act more a 9 and a 10. How do you encourage peers to do that? Can you give us some example of how a peer would “challenge or encourage” their other peers who might be struggling? 

Stacy Ledvina: So, I talked about a reduction in the use of secured detention and the reality was that journey came just a little before Kids at Hope was introduced. But along that time, my shining star 10 who is our restorative justice program coordinator. When I read the book that Rick Miller wrote I instantly thought of her. Like when I circled an 8 at first and then I read the rest of the book and I realized I need to be a 10 but I also thought in my head, I know somebody who’s a 10. Our restorative program coordinator was always a 10 and so, she was one of the people that I was able to work with and learn from and then had her work with other staff. So what she would do is, for instance, I think of this one time where she was struggling because one of the probation officers was asking for a use of secured detention for the violation of a court order. The violation was specific to the restorative justice program and so she came and talked to me about that and said: “you know I really don’t think that this is an appropriate use of secured detention, it’s not really a community safety issue, so I need to figure out a way to suggest some accountability pieces without having the probation officer ask for secured detention time.”  She was actually able to sit down with this individual. As a supervisor, I wouldn’t have been able to help with that but she was able to sit down with that person and get them to brainstorm about ways that they could look at accountability that didn’t necessarily equal punishment. So by having that conversation they were able to agree upon some additional work to make up for what he hadn’t done before, not showing up for her restorative justice obligations. And so it’s about having those open and honest conversations and if you share that belief system and think about it at the day, did I believe? Have I accomplished these things? The other part is connecting.  Connecting is something that some individuals do better than others, by sharing examples with each other, so if you have a situation where you see somebody has really made an effort to connect with the kid, or if you see that they have made an effort to get that kid connected with another meaningful, sustainable relationship, sharing those experiences work with one another. For quite some time we did a weekly “You Rock”. And the You Rock was really saying to our co-workers this is something that this co-worker did that really aligns with our belief system, that’s really aligned with evidence-based practices and you rock because you did this. It gives other people who are maybe struggling a little bit more, some ideas about what it is that they could use to be more successful in the implementation process. And then regarding time traveling, there’s so many fun, cool activities out there that you can do in regards to time traveling with kids. At one point, we once had a probation officer who agreed to take on a group of kids. They were placed out of the home, so they had obligations for independent living and they did a vision board and used the four destinations to talk about their vision for the future so they were able to share those as part the little event that they had at our after school report center. So sharing of ideas of how you have those conversations are some of the fun and exciting things that you learn about kids or accomplishments that people have made and really spending time focusing on that. Also, help bring those other co-workers along and give them the sort of hands-on tool that they need to really feel comfortable and implementing a philosophy like this.



Audience Question: How do you help people change their minds about shifting from a punitive mindset and realigning with the Kids at Hope philosophy. I know you touched on that a few minutes ago, but especially people who are kind of in that punitive mentality. Did they eventually come around? 

Stacy Ledvina: We in Wisconsin have something called 72 Hour Hold so basically probation can lock kids up for up to 72 hours if we think they violated one of the conditions of their court orders. We utilized that more than any other type of approach with kids. 80% of our bookings to detention were for 72-hour hold. We think about that and how punitive we were and when they (the Department of Justice and the Annie E Casey Foundation) came to us and said you’re a “superuser” of detention, my first response was “no we’re not.” And they said, “can we share the data with you?” I knew my data but I didn’t know my data in comparison to other counties on our state and they shared 2010 and 2011 data with me and we were the highest – second and third highest in 72 counties in our state for the highest number of bookings with 72 hour hold security detention. The counties that were numbers 1 and 2 were counties that had population 2 and 3 times the size of our population and we were like number wise up there with them. And at first, we responded that we used the approach, “You need to take us seriously. You are on probation and you need to do this and if you’re not following the line we’re going to put you in secured detention.” So we’re doing that instead of doing things like custody holds or sanctioning or revoking kids in bringing back to court. When I saw the data and our numbers in those regards, we were better but we weren’t much better than a lot of the counties out there. So it took us several years to really sort of embrace this idea that we were “super users” of security detention. We’re not anymore but that was really was our philosophy. The biggest hurdle with that was to get our community partners to see that we were now filling out toolbox with different things.  So, instead of the hammer -secure detention- we were now really working to understand that there are criminogenic needs tied to recidivism and we need to focus on them. These are not turn on like a light switch. These are things we need to work with kids on overtime. Their thoughts and beliefs had happened the past 13, 14, 15 years and we’re not going to a 1 or 2 sessions or 1 or 2 months make such a significant impact that’s going to change completely. But the more we believe, connect,  and time travel the easier working on those other things become and so when we think about the way we hold kids accountable, is tied back to the reason why they were committing crime in the first place.? And is it tied to things that I can make them hopeful about their future? If we can connect those things and make consequence more meaningful not punitive, it doesn’t have to be punitive to be meaningful, we’ve all had consequences in our lives for things that weren’t super punitive but they were meaningful to us, and so that’s what we’re really trying to do. I mentioned that 80% of our bookings were 72-hour holds. I just happen to look this morning since January 1 of this year, we’ve had 1 72-hour hold to secure detention for the entire year.



Audience Question: How long does it take for an agency to truly turn the corner in and embrace its policies. It’s sounding like you’re saying it’s not an overnight thing, it can be years, it’s an evolutionary process and it’s a constant growing process. 

Stacy Ledvina: As I said, 2010 was when we only went to the first “what works with youth” training. Let’s look at evidence and practices, it’s sort of the hot topic back then. Certainly, after that, we were able to do things like it Carey Guides and brief intervention tools.  Mark Carey himself was here training for supervisors and he came back a year later after he had trained us on some techniques with working with our staff. And we went around the room and we all had to ask questions and tell what we have been doing in the past year and my question was, “When are we done because I have other things I need to do” and he sort of laughed at me was like “Oh, we need to talk. You’re not ever really ever done because the research is ever-changing and so you need to continue to stay up on this and you need to continue to plan”. Now that I have my staff really comfortable and connected when new staff come on it’s a lot easier, my least senior staff has been here for 13 years. I have contracted staff who have been here much less time than that but I have a very seasoned group of employees employed through the county. And so it was quite a test, to get people to realize the way we have been doing things for a long time, the way I was trained 21 years ago is not as successful way to run probation and so it is definitely a journey and it’s 2 or 3 steps forward and  a step back.  Maybe there is a new DA in your community and you’re a couple of steps more back or a new judge or you have a program, fall out from underneath you that you’ve relied on for a period of time or some staff turnover. So it’s definitely is a journey and we’ve really been working quite hard since the beginning of 2011 after learning the basics and saying, “We need to get a team together to really look at what does this mean and how are we going to do it?” We’ve not done everything perfectly by any means but I can tell you that we’ve been learning in a way that we’ve been able to have conversations in our community about Kids at Hope and that has helped us significantly with that best practice as a new justice.



Audience Question: What was that conversation with your judges, with your DAs, what was that conversation like? How does that go? How did get them onboard? How had you managed to keep reeducating in light of turn over and such? 

Stacy Ledvina: So we do have 23 trainers, that’s my first saving grace. We have 23 local people trained to do training.  People from a vast array of backgrounds and different places so I can rely on some of them to do training or updating because sometimes they’ve heard so much from me that another message from me isn’t the best person to do it but I have all these other people out there who can help me with that. A CASA Coordinator, we do have 1 public defender who’s trained, we have a school superintendent who’s trained, we have special ed staff, we have a lot of people. And because we are a smaller community of eighty thousand, people know people and so if I can make connections that way or get meetings that way, I’ll do anything I can.  We do have to continuously train, so we do have introductory training on an ongoing basis. So we have a community that recently called me up and said, “Hey do you ever do this training for other counties?”, and I  ay well, “You’re welcome to join us on our next training at the end of August”, and so I have a group of people coming from another community. I recently had daycare reach out to me, we haven’t reached out to daycares at all but it’s super important to start that young and that early in believing in people. And we have our United Way recently be fully trained. But I think the more individuals we train, the more the word gets out. I’m lucky that our judges have all come through other avenues where they’ve worked with us on JDAI efforts and implementation of best practices in Kids at Hope from the beginning. Having judges who are really onboard make it really great and exciting. If you are struggling with that in particular, the supreme court of Arizona does have – they are Kids at Hope court, so there’s some really cool stuff and there some really cool connections that you can make there because one judge to another is much meaningful and there’s some great stuff written by some of the judges from Arizona in regards to Kids at Hope and their reason for believing in it and being a Kids at Home court. I just tried to plant those seeds again, and I will be honest, I do have some ADAs in our jurisdictions that probably would tell me that they don’t believe in Kids at Hope at all or that, again, just sort of feeling about things, it’s not a strategy. So we continue to try to educate them in every way that we can knowing that we can’t change everybody and not every profession is invested in the type of things we’re invested in, in regards to long term outcomes and better outcomes for people. But we do continue to offer those opportunities and have some hard conversations especially trying to connect people with other like people or people that may be have had the same thought in the past but have changed it since. Real-life examples in March 2020, when we do our masters. Our mini masters here in Manitowoc called the Power of Hope, is the name of our event. When we do that event we are going to have local people talk about the impact that believing, connecting and time-traveling had on them, including adult business members. We are going to have a young man who’s actually only 12. He is going to talk with his mom who is his adoptive mother. So they’re going to do a duo situation. We’re going to have a young gal who’s recently graduated, but it’s going to come from all avenues so really putting that face with what this means for people. It hopeful will help some of those stragglers in understanding our belief system and to hopefully – even if I could get them to come for that, a little portion of that day to see what it means for individuals that they may have come across in our community and a variety talking about the importance of this message.



Audience Question: You’ve mentioned that your number of detentions have gone down. Do you know if the numbers have also gone down or continue to go down also for various ethnic groups? 

Stacy Ledvina: The numbers have definitely gone down. We are still disproportionate in our number of bookings for African-American youth in our community. We are a very Caucasian community, our Caucasian population is about 86% and our African-American population is about 2%, so that’s where see our disproportionate contact. So we continue to look at that and monitor that.  I don’t want to say anything too early, but I think it’s going to look quite different for 2019. What we’ve also found because we use detention for more serious community safety issues is we are seeing kids in detention longer than we ever did before.  When we did 72 hour-holds we saw them there for three days because that’s what we’re doing, now we’re seeing an average length of stay around 12. And because our numbers have decreased so much, a handful of kids can make a big difference in those numbers and the disproportionality comes down in those situations. But I do believe in 2019 we’re going to see that that’s just disproportionate contact has decreased significantly. But our average length of stay will increase significantly due to some serious crime that we’ve had with just a couple of youth that will be in detention long term pending their reverse waiver and adult charge situation.


Click Here to Watch a Recording of Kids at Hope: Believing, Connecting and Time Travelling in Youth Justice.




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