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Remarks of OJJDP Administrator Liz Ryan at the Continuum of Care Framework and Awards Harrisburg, PA


Good morning. I’m Liz Ryan, Administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, or OJJDP.

Welcome! Thank you for joining us here in Harrisburg to learn about OJJDP’s fiscal year 2023 Building Local Continuums of Care To Support Youth Success initiative and to hear from two of our continuum of care grantees, the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency and the City of Philadelphia. In all, OJJDP is awarding $17.1 million dollars in funding to 26 grantees—including 6 states, 17 local jurisdictions, and 3 training and technical assistance providers.

I’d like to begin by thanking the City of Harrisburg for hosting this morning’s event—for providing this space and for your warm welcome.

I’d also like to offer sincere thanks to Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor Austin Davis for his commitment to justice and services for youth. As Lieutenant Governor, Mr. Davis chairs Pennsylvania’s Commission on Crime and Delinquency. The Commission’s efforts are vital to the health and well-being of Pennsylvania’s young people and to the functioning and safety of local communities.

Under Lieutenant Governor Davis’s leadership, the Commission emphasizes balanced and restorative justice to help system-involved young people rehabilitate, reenter their communities, and find meaning in their lives. The Commission relies on research and evidence-based strategies to prevent delinquency by young people—responding to their needs while keeping communities safe.

I’m excited to tell you about OJJDP, our mission, and our Continuum of Care for Communities framework.

OJJDP has supported youth and families across the nation for nearly 50 years. We provide federal funding to states, Tribes, and communities to protect children, prevent delinquency, and improve juvenile justice systems. Our Office was established in 1974 through the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act.

Two years ago, President Biden appointed me Administrator of OJJDP. As Administrator, I direct OJJDP’s grant programs, training initiatives, and policy activities. In other words, I am responsible for ensuring that the Office fulfills our charge—that we serve and protect this nation’s youth.

Three priorities guide everything that OJJDP does:

  • First: Treat children as children.
  • Second: Serve youth at home, with their families and in their communities; and
  • Third: Open up opportunities for young people who come into contact with the juvenile justice system.

At the core of each of our priorities is an unwavering commitment to racial equity and fairness, and a promise to partner with young people and families who are directly impacted by the juvenile justice system.

Right now, communities across the country are coping with profound challenges that impact the health and well-being of young people. Depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues have spiked since the start of the pandemic. Our youth are isolated. Too many suffer trauma and victimization. Gun violence continues to shatter communities. The list goes on.

Youth victimization trends are especially alarming, particularly among young people involved in the juvenile justice system. A recent OJJDP-supported study found that system-involved youth were up to 23 times more likely than the general population to die from gun violence. Sixteen years after confinement, more than 25 percent of Black and Hispanic male young adults had been injured or killed by firearms.

We continue to tackle these issues every day, and we are making great strides in our responses to system-involved youth. Youth arrests for violent crimes are down. The number of youth in residential placement has dropped significantly. We are diverting greater numbers of young people from the justice system—providing them with community-based resources and treatment instead. And more policymakers and practitioners are adopting evidence-based approaches that are rooted in the science of adolescent development.

OJJDP proudly supports these efforts. Our Continuum of Care framework emphasizes evidence-based and promising programs and practices, so that young people can access needed resources and services where they live and at every point in the juvenile justice system. It takes a holistic approach, spanning prevention, intervention, treatment, and reentry strategies.

The continuum of care emphasizes prevention and early intervention services for the vast majority of young people, supporting those at risk for both delinquency and victimization. For young people at high risk of moving deeper into the juvenile justice system, the framework emphasizes intensive, targeted, evidence‐based programming.

OJJDP is not the first agency to adopt a continuum of care approach. Decades of research and success in other fields—including the housing and healthcare sectors—support its use. We developed our framework after holding numerous listening sessions and town halls around the country. Scores of youth justice stakeholders attended, including many young people and families with firsthand experience of the juvenile justice system. We listened as they told us what works, what doesn’t, and why.

With a continuum of care in place for youth, communities are better able to assess their needs, identify gaps in programs and services, and distribute resources accordingly. The goal is to prevent most young people from ever entering the juvenile justice system, and to help those who become system-involved to find positive paths for the future. Out-of-home placement should only be considered for the few youth who pose a serious risk to public safety.

Today, I’d like to share OJJDP’s Continuum of Care for Communities infographic, which illustrates the framework and the array of services it encompasses. As you can see, the framework centers on youth, families, and communities, and reflects the dynamic, evolving nature of their needs. It reflects the process for providing services to youth, beginning with protecting and supporting children who are risk for becoming involved in delinquency or for being victimized.

OJJDP’s implementation of a continuum of care framework make sense. Serving youth well—responding to their needs and offering them options and opportunities—strengthens communities and contributes to public safety.

The framework also fulfills a legal mandate. The federal Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2018 directs OJJDP to support a “continuum of evidence-based or promising programs” that are trauma informed, reflect the science of adolescent development, and are designed to meet the needs of youth who are involved in the juvenile justice system or who are at risk for system involvement.

As I mentioned, OJJDP’s fiscal year 2023 initiative—Building Local Continuums of Care To Support Youth Success—has awarded a total of $17.1 million dollars to 26 grantees. I am extremely pleased to officially announce awards to two grantees here in Pennsylvania—the City of Philadelphia and the state’s Commission on Crime and Delinquency. Both have extraordinary plans to advance OJJDP’s goals and strengthen continuums of care in Pennsylvania.

OJJDP has awarded $450 thousand dollars to the City of Philadelphia to fund the city’s Continuum of Care Planning Project—an initiative supporting the decarceration of young people, and the expansion of services for those who are reentering the community after incarceration or who are at risk of involvement in the criminal justice system.

Philadelphia’s Office of Policy and Strategic Initiatives for Criminal Justice and Public Safety will involve youth, their families, and other stakeholders in an assessment and planning process. They will work together to map community-based services and programs, develop efficient and inclusive methods for accessing services, and ultimately generate a comprehensive system—based on national best practices—to support youth and their families. The city aims to eliminate ineffective and redundant services, and to strategically reinvest cost savings in diversion, prevention, and intervention programs that support youth success.

Lisa Varon, Deputy Director of Juvenile Justice Initiatives in Philadelphia’s Office of Criminal Justice, will tell us more in a few moments.

With $825 thousand dollars in OJJDP funding, Pennsylvania’s Commission on Crime and Delinquency is partnering with the WestEd Justice and Prevention Research Center to identify innovative strategies for expanding community-based resources and services along a continuum of care and opportunity.

The Supporting Youth Success in Pennsylvania Statewide Planning & Assessment Initiative will focus on designing, implementing, and sustaining local, coordinated continuums of care and opportunity for youth who are system-involved or at risk for system involvement. The initiative will review Pennsylvania’s youth-serving infrastructure to identify and engage additional partners, particularly emphasizing communities with high levels of need and limited resources. The process will focus on opportunities to prevent youth from entering the juvenile justice system or becoming more deeply involved in it, and will be guided by principles the state already embraces—balanced and restorative justice.

Ultimately, Pennsylvania aims to create a comprehensive statewide plan with funding, policy, and program recommendations to guide the state’s youth-focused services. OJJDP is thrilled to support the effort.

The Commission’s Executive Director, Mike Pennington, is here today and will share more details in a few moments.

At its core, the continuum of care framework is a holistic approach that is community-driven, leveraging local insights and resources. Serving youth well strengthens communities and contributes to public safety. Everyone benefits.

Thank you for your attention. I look forward to engaging with some of you one-on-one later this morning. I will now turn the microphone over to Lisa Varon.

Thank you, Mike, Lisa, and the representatives from the WestEd Justice & Prevention Research Center and Benchmark Program for your commitment to the health and well-being of young people, and for designing and implementing continuums of care that respond to youth and family needs, provide opportunities for young people to grow, and promote community safety. My OJJDP colleagues and I are energized by your vision and your plans. We look forward to witnessing your progress and celebrating your successes.

Thank you, too, for joining us this morning to learn about OJJDP’s continuum of care framework and the Pennsylvania initiatives funded under our Building Local Continuums of Care To Support Youth Success initiative.

To learn more about OJJDP, please visit our website at ojjdp.ojp.gov.

My fellow speakers and I are available to speak with members of the press following this event.

Thank you.

Date Published: April 11, 2024