Professor of social welfare Laura Abrams was featured in a Social Work Today article about the role of social work in the U.S. juvenile justice system. Over the last half-century, the U.S. has favored a system of punishment that made it easier for juveniles to be treated as adults. But Abrams sees a new era unfolding with a wave of 21st century reforms that prioritize the protection of children’s rights and support for youth and families. “Social workers should care about juvenile justice reform because we need to restore our rightful place with youth who have been in contact with the law,” she said. She encouraged social workers to stay informed about the issues, become aware of local initiatives and connect with advocacy groups to advance the cause of juvenile justice reform. “We can’t consider [reform] done, even though a lot of progress has been made,” Abrams said.
Laura Wray-Lake, associate professor of social welfare, authored a blog post for the London School of Economics that highlighted her research on political behavior among U.S. youth. Affiliation with a major party has long been linked to heightened political engagement, she wrote, but in recent years young adults have been less likely to join a party. To analyze changes in youth political engagement, Wray-Lake and her research partners surveyed nearly 13,000 people — beginning at age 18 and continuing until they reached at least 30 — about behaviors such as voting, donating to a campaign, writing to public officials, and boycotting products or stores. They found that major political and social events from a person’s adolescence may be linked to his or her level of political activity throughout young adulthood. Given their potential for engagement, “it is remarkable that political parties appear to place such a low priority on recruiting or mobilizing young people,” Wray-Lake wrote.
The student-led Latinx Caucus at UCLA Luskin collaborated with the Council on Social Work Education to host the 17th Annual Latinx Community Conference: Breaking Down Borders, Más Allá de la Frontera. The April 27 event brought together social services professionals and scholars to discuss issues facing the Latinx community, focusing specifically on immigration. “Immigration permeates every level of service, and without considering it holistically while also considering it within our specialties, we risk taking on a limited understanding of this complex social concern,” said MPP candidate Kassandra Hernandez, one of several student organizers. The event started with a blessing circle, followed by an address by Dean Gary Segura. Beth Caldwell MSW ’02, a professor at Southwestern Law School, gave the keynote address. Caldwell’s most recent research explores the consequences of deportation to Mexico with an emphasis on deportees who grew up in the United States. The daylong conference covered a wide spectrum of topics relating to the experiences of the Latinx community. Experts led workshops on mental health, educational barriers, domestic violence, LGBTQ issues, and the deportation of immigrant youth and families. Conference attendees enjoyed entertainment by the Mariachi de Uclatlán group during lunch and Changüí Majadero during the evening networking reception. Historically, Social Welfare students have taken the lead on organizing the community conference; this year, the scope was broadened to encourage full participation by Public Policy and Urban Planning students, as well.
Conference photo gallery available on Flickr:
Professor Laura Abrams, chair of Social Welfare, recently co-authored an article in Academic Pediatrics investigating the relationship between child incarceration and subsequent adult health outcomes. The United States is the world leader in youth incarceration, and research by Abrams and co-principal investigator Elizabeth Barnert, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, aimed to bridge the data gap on repercussions from child incarceration. The study used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health to compare adult health outcomes in individuals grouped by age of first incarceration. The study compared individuals first incarcerated before age 14 with those first incarcerated at 15-17 years old, 18-20 years old and 21-24 years old. Among the adult health outcomes analyzed were physical health, such as mobility limitations, and mental health, including depressive symptoms and suicidal thoughts. After controlling for sociodemographic and ecological factors, the study found that “child incarceration independently predicted adult mobility limitations, adult depression and adult suicidal thoughts,” confirming the link between younger age at first incarceration and worse adult health. The research also identified sociodemographic disparities in child incarceration, finding that “individuals first incarcerated as children were disproportionately of color, more likely to be from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, and more likely to have been raised in a single-parent household.” The findings will likely have repercussions in the health arena. The report concluded, “Child incarceration displays even wider sociodemographic disparities than incarceration generally and is associated with even worse adult physical and mental health outcomes.”
Research by Professor Laura Abrams of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare is mentioned in a story that originated with the Chronicle of Social Change and has been picked up by other media outlets, including the Appeal and the Press-Telegram. Senate Bill (SB) 439 would prevent the juvenile justice system from hearing most cases of children younger than age 12. “I think people have an assumption that juvenile court is potentially a helpful intervention for young children,” Abrams says in the story, which notes her analysis of state juvenile justice data. “But in most cases, the charges aren’t sustained or they’re dismissed, so the family doesn’t get any help at all.”
Laura Abrams, professor and chair of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare, and Sergio Serna of the field education faculty received a one-year policy practice in field education grant from the Council on Social Work Education totaling $18,500. This grant will enable Social Welfare students and faculty to make closer ties with local child welfare agencies to advocate for youth aging out of foster care, to learn more about the policymaking process and to forge lasting community relationships.
UCLA Luskin Social Welfare’s Ian Holloway has received word that another of his research proposals has been selected for funding. The study, “Tobacco and Cannabis Product Use Among Subgroups of Sexual and Gender Minority Emerging Adults,” will examine trajectories of tobacco and cannabis use among sexual and gender minority young people. Previous studies of tobacco products showed higher frequency of use within LGBT communities, but less is known about specific subgroups of LGBT people or their use of cannabis. Holloway, an associate professor, said the research is timely in the wake of California’s legalization of marijuana and other cannabis products in 2016, and he was happy to learn of the funding by the California Tobacco Related Disease Research Program during the month of June, which is Gay Pride month. “This funding will help us better understand tobacco and cannabis-related health disparities among LGBT young people, which is crucial to improve both short-term and long-term health in LGBT communities” Holloway said. The award amount of $400,000 will fund research in two phases, with initial results expected in about a year. Phase I will consist of qualitative interviews about tobacco and cannabis initiation and progression with LGBT tobacco users ages 18-29 in Los Angeles. In Phase II, 1,000 LGBT young people across California will participate in an online survey about their frequency and intensity of tobacco and cannabis product use. The research will be completed in partnership with the Los Angeles LGBT Center.
By Les Dunseith
On March 13, 2018, UCLA Luskin Social Welfare hosted an event that featured two panels of experts in youth justice engaged in critical conversations about efforts to intercede on behalf of troubled young people before they become entangled in a corrections system that often perpetuates a cycle of crime and punishment.
The event was organized by Professor Laura Abrams, chair of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare, building on themes outlined in her recent book co-authored with Diane Terry MSW ’04 PhD ’12, who is a senior research associate at Loyola Marymount University: “Everyday Desistance: The Transition to Adulthood Among Formerly Incarcerated Youth.”
The first panel was moderated by Jorja Leap MSW ’80 PhD ’89, an adjunct professor of social welfare. It focused on diversion, a process that enables young people in contact with the justice system to bypass formal prosecution if they meet specific criteria and successfully complete a program that fits their potential needs (such as restorative justice and counseling).
The panelists included retired Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza, the director of the Los Angeles County Office of Diversion and Reentry, who has played a leadership role in recent efforts to reframe how L.A. County handles youth when they first get into trouble with the law. He described the significance of the County Board of Supervisors’ recent motion creating a new Office of Youth Diversion and Development, which will be overseen by Espinoza within his office.
“That action culminated almost a year of work where disparate justice partners, community organizations and law enforcement came together to try to hammer out what became an 80-page road map for youth diversion in Los Angeles County,” Espinoza explained.
The new model will “divert youths at first point of contact with law enforcement and not at the point of arrest,” Espinoza noted.
Panelists Gloria Gonzales and Kim McGill are organizers with the Youth Justice Coalition, one of the community-based groups that will be providing some of the services for the new diversion program. Both have personally had experiences with juvenile justice systems in the past. Out of their commitment to systems change, they have also been part of this effort and expressed cautious optimism.
“It’s at the point where this is the best start to building a relationship between the community-based organizations and the police and law enforcement agencies,” Gonzales said. “But I also know that is going to be a really, really hard new model to establish.”
“We have a really strong plan,” McGill said about the effort, which she participated in creating. “But how do we make a dream real in L.A. County?”
Panelist Sean Kennedy, the former director of the federal public defender’s office who now serves as director of the Loyola Law School Center for Juvenile Law and Policy, observed: “I think this is a great start. But, in the past, diversion is often too limited. Too many great kids are excluded.”
Although Leap and the four panelists all said they view the new approach as being a positive development, similar efforts in the past have fallen short in part because of outmoded attitudes that emphasized punishment of youth without dealing with the root causes of their actions.
“Diversion, in my view, isn’t about accountability – although I guess that is a part of it,” Kennedy said. “It’s really about addressing unaddressed trauma, seeking to heal damaged kids, and — and I think this is too often overlooked — education advocacy to deal with problems in the schools where they often first arise.”
Abrams moderated a second panel that focused on the concept of desistance, which relates to efforts by individuals to cease — or at least moderate — the attitudes, behaviors and habits that contributed to criminal justice involvement. Desistance is often defined as the gradual process of establishing a new, crime-free lifestyle.
Terry offered examples from her book with Abrams to illustrate that desistance is far more complicated than simply forcing someone to abide by the law.
“Desistance is a process,” Terry said. “It does not happen linearly; it’s fluid. But it starts with the changes that the young people themselves are trying to make.”
Panelist Harry Grammer is founder and president of New Earth, which provides arts, educational and vocational programs to empower youth ages 13-25 to transform their lives and move toward positive, healthier life choices. He applauded the contributions of academics to the transformative justice movement, but cautioned the many students in attendance against viewing young people only as they fit into groups or populations for statistical purposes.
“This is important if you are going to be doing research or evaluations on anyone,” Grammer said. “If you don’t understand their culture, where they come from, the foods that they eat, who they love in their lives, then there is no way to build a true rapport.”
Chuck Supple, director of the Division of Juvenile Justice for the California Department of Corrections, flew in from the Sacramento area to participate in the panel discussion and express his support for research and policy that changes the ways that society deals with young people who have gotten into trouble.
“We hope to be able to play a part in helping to develop new skills to reduce risk while they are in DJJ, but, more importantly, to be able to build strengths that are going to transcend into the community,” Supple told an audience of about 50 people at UCLA’s James West Alumni Center.
“It’s not just doing no harm, but going back into the community and playing important roles in terms of employment, education and community involvement. It’s helping them to change the very conditions that led to them coming to us in the first place,” he said.
The evening closed with an emphasis on the factors that will play out in the implementation of both the diversion plan and ongoing desistance.
“It’s critical to think about the key themes that emerged from both panels – the importance of paying attention to individual youth as well as the need for lasting systems change,” Leap said. “These two poles are connected, always, by the crucial role played by the community – the nonprofit organizations, the families and the residents – who are all involved and part of the change that is underway.”
UCLA Social Welfare co-hosted a reception with the Pacific Region Universities at the Society for Social Work and Research (SSWR) Conference in Washington D.C. on Friday, Jan. 12. During the conference, many UCLA Luskin faculty, students and recent graduates made presentations about topics of interest and recent research. Here is a list of presenters and topics:
- Qualities of Successful Re-Entry Programs for Young Men: A Focus Group Study
- From Research to Policy: How One Good Idea Can Influence State Law
- Social Work Research in the Current Presidential Administration: Responsibility, Ethics, and Social Justice
- Social Worker, Psychologist, or Psychiatrist: Does Profession Matter for Treatment Decisions for Antisocially Behaving Youth?
- South African Adult Caregivers as “Protective Shields”: Serving as a Buffer Between Precarious Neighborhood Conditions, Food Insecurity, and Youth Risk Behaviors
- I’m More Driven Now: Resilience and Resistance Among Transgender and Gender Expansive Youth Experiencing Homelessness
- Hearing Youth Voices: Experiences of Civic Empowerment Among Urban Youth (presented by Jason Anthony Plummer)
- In Their Own Words: Responses of Latinx Youth to the 2016 Presidential Election (presented by Rachel Wells)
Students and Recent Graduates
Skye Allmang, Kristina Lovato-Hermann, Lauren Willner, Rachel Wells
- Social Work Research in the Current Presidential Administration: Responsibility, Ethics, and Social Justice
Joanna L. Barreras
- Does Growing up with Father Involvement Matter? Investigating the Association of Black Women’s Early Father Involvement to Early Childbearing
- Living in Public Housing: A Mother’s Childhood Contact with a Father Predicts Offspring’s Contact with Their Father
- Assessing the Effectiveness of City-Wide Trauma-Informed Trainings
- Enforced Separations: A Qualitative Examination on the Impact of Parental Deportation on Latino-a Youth and Families
Jason Anthony Plummer
Sarah Soakai (Urban Planning)
- The Impact of ‘Compassionate Disruption’ Policies on Indigenous Populations: The Criminalization of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Houseless in Hawaii
- Increasing Our Understanding of Macro Practice in Low-Income Neighborhoods: A Teaching Case Study of a Nonprofit Organization
Brenda A. Tully