Felipe Franco: Bringing Results-Based Thinking to NYC’s Juvenile Justice Agency

Posted August 7, 2020
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Children and dad playing jump rope in their neighborhood

A recent­ly com­plet­ed eval­u­a­tion of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Chil­dren and Fam­i­ly Fel­low­ship® includ­ed case stud­ies of indi­vid­ual Fel­lows who applied the program’s lead­er­ship lessons to trans­form the way orga­ni­za­tions work on behalf of kids, fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties. The post below is one of a series of three based on those case studies.

As deputy com­mis­sion­er of the Divi­sion of Youth and Fam­i­ly Jus­tice (DYFJ) in New York City’s Admin­is­tra­tion for Children’s Ser­vices (ACS) from 2014 to 2019, Felipe Fran­co over­saw a wide range of pro­grams and ser­vices for youth and fam­i­lies involved with the juve­nile jus­tice sys­tem. He helped prove that the nation’s largest city could move young peo­ple out of state pris­ons and back to the com­mu­ni­ty with the right sup­port, while fur­ther reduc­ing youth delin­quen­cy and improv­ing pub­lic safety.

A mem­ber of class 10 (20162017) of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Chil­dren and Fam­i­ly Fel­low­ship, Fran­co has lever­aged what he learned from the Foundation’s inten­sive exec­u­tive lead­er­ship pro­gram and the Results Count® frame­work, as well as Casey’s Juve­nile Deten­tion Alter­na­tives Ini­tia­tive® and oth­er juve­nile jus­tice work in New York City. Dur­ing his tenure at ACS, the num­ber of young peo­ple in deten­tion decreased by more than 45%, and the num­ber of youth in out-of-home place­ment decreased by close to 65%. [Under the lead­er­ship of Franco’s suc­ces­sors, ACS achieved a mile­stone in July 2020 with zero young peo­ple in deten­tion for misdemeanors.]

One of Franco’s most sig­nif­i­cant lead­er­ship accom­plish­ments has been his abil­i­ty to inspire var­i­ous depart­ments and units with­in city gov­ern­ment to work togeth­er and real­ly change how they inter­act with youth involved in the juve­nile jus­tice sys­tem,” says Michelle P. Hee­lan, direc­tor of Human Cap­i­tal at ICF, the con­sult­ing firm eval­u­at­ing the Fel­low­ship.

Raise the Age

Passed in 2017, New York State’s Raise the Age leg­is­la­tion end­ed the auto­mat­ic pros­e­cu­tion of 16- and 17-year-olds in adult courts and called for age-appro­pri­ate ser­vices for youth involved with the juve­nile jus­tice sys­tem. Chair of New York City’s Raise the Age task force, Fran­co used Results Count tools and skills to lead the suc­cess­ful imple­men­ta­tion of the legislation:

  • Results Based Account­abil­i­ty. Fran­co shared these prin­ci­ples with DYFJ staff and stake­hold­ers in the juve­nile jus­tice sys­tem to devel­op data-dri­ven analy­ses and a strate­gic plan to refine and inte­grate services.
  • Col­lab­o­ra­tive Lead­er­ship. Fran­co built trust­ed rela­tion­ships among depart­ments with very dif­fer­ent cul­tures — ACS and the depart­ments of Edu­ca­tion, Cul­tur­al Affairs and Cor­rec­tions — and iden­ti­fied oppor­tu­ni­ties to devel­op shared per­for­mance mea­sures ben­e­fit­ing the young adults the agen­cies serve.
  • Equi­ty. Fran­co exam­ined dis­pro­por­tion­ate minor­i­ty rep­re­sen­ta­tion in deten­tion and place­ment of youth and began to deploy a wide range of evi­dence-based com­mu­ni­ty ser­vices tar­get­ing minor­i­ty youth before they become involved with the juve­nile jus­tice system.

Under Franco’s lead­er­ship, New York City’s Close to Home pro­gram became a nation­al­ly rec­og­nized mod­el for young peo­ple who require out-of-home place­ment. Instead of send­ing them to far-off youth pris­ons, Close to Home pro­vides ther­a­peu­tic ser­vices and struc­tured res­i­den­tial care in group homes and facil­i­ties clos­er to young people’s fam­i­lies and communities.

Pre­ven­tive and men­tal health services

To estab­lish pro­gram­ming that is sup­port­ive to young peo­ple who have expe­ri­enced trau­ma, child­hood adver­si­ty and/​or tox­ic stress, Fran­co expand­ed a rela­tion­ship with Belle­vue Hos­pi­tal to strength­en men­tal health ser­vices in deten­tion facil­i­ties. Belle­vue staff have been embed­ded in youth facil­i­ties to train and sup­port ACS staff. The part­ner­ship with Belle­vue estab­lished prac­tices that pro­mote emo­tion­al, phys­i­cal and social safe­ty and pro­vide young peo­ple and staff with skills to reg­u­late their emo­tions and behavior.

Fran­co also worked with the city’s Office of Man­age­ment and Bud­get, Depart­ment of City­wide Admin­is­tra­tive Ser­vices, Office of Labor Rela­tions and three dif­fer­ent labor unions to cre­ate a new civ­il ser­vice posi­tion and title: youth devel­op­ment spe­cial­ist. Bring­ing a new lev­el of pro­fes­sion­al­ism to the super­vi­sion and care of young peo­ple in deten­tion, the new civ­il ser­vice posi­tion also offered a more appeal­ing salary than the title it replaced. ACS recruit­ed indi­vid­u­als with life expe­ri­ences sim­i­lar to those of the young people.

In the fall of 2019, Fran­co was hired by the Foundation’s Jim Casey Youth Oppor­tu­ni­ties Ini­tia­tive as senior fel­low for young adult prac­tice. Bring­ing a nation­al focus to his work, he seeks to iden­ti­fy and sup­port best prac­tices for sys­tem-involved youth who are tran­si­tion­ing to adult­hood, includ­ing reduc­ing the use of insti­tu­tion­al care in child wel­fare and juve­nile justice. 

Read the eval­u­a­tion of the Chil­dren and Fam­i­ly Fellowship

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