My Life, My Plan: The Value of Youth-Led Reentry Planning

Posted July 28, 2016
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog mylifemyplan 2016

Michael D., author of this blog post, is a stu­dent at Mober­ly Area Com­mu­ni­ty Col­lege and will trans­fer to the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mis­souri Colum­bia. He also is one of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s youth part­ner­ship con­sul­tants. Michael authored his own reen­try plan before he left the Mis­souri Divi­sion of Youth Ser­vices in April 2016.

A reen­try plan is a blue­print for a young per­son­’s tran­si­tion back to their com­mu­ni­ty from a res­i­den­tial juve­nile facil­i­ty. A youth-led reen­try plan empow­ers the young per­son to take con­trol of his life, take own­er­ship of his plan and iden­ti­fy the sup­port he will need to make his reen­try successful.

The heart of a youth-led reen­try plan is this: The young per­son is the expert on him­self. The young per­son sets his own goals in the key areas that dri­ve him, such as per­son­al growth, fam­i­ly dynam­ics, health and edu­ca­tion. The real­i­ty for too many young peo­ple is that a pro­ba­tion offi­cer whom they hard­ly know assigns them a cook­ie cut­ter reen­try plan that is packed with court-man­dat­ed ser­vices and ele­ments that are inef­fec­tive for or irrel­e­vant to the indi­vid­ual young per­son­’s life.

I believe the best prac­tice is for the young per­son to be respon­si­ble for assem­bling, writ­ing and imple­ment­ing his own plan. He doesn’t do this in iso­la­tion, though. Fam­i­ly mem­bers give sug­ges­tions and guid­ance, and sys­tem staff mem­bers offer sup­port and resources. It is up to the young per­son to incor­po­rate what he wants and needs.

I cre­at­ed my own reen­try plan over the last nine months I spent in a Mis­souri Divi­sion of Youth Ser­vices facil­i­ty. My goals were to live on my own, go away to col­lege and become an accoun­tant. But those were not the first steps of my plan. Instead, I knew that a con­di­tion of pro­ba­tion would be liv­ing with my mom. So, that is where I start­ed and enrolled in the local com­mu­ni­ty col­lege. I have stayed focused on my goals, though, and plan to amend my pro­ba­tion agree­ment so that I can trans­fer to the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mis­souri Colum­bia this fall and live near campus.

My reen­try plan is a liv­ing doc­u­ment that I con­tin­ue to update as my life views and cir­cum­stances change. For instance, now I expect to change my col­lege major from busi­ness to pub­lic pol­i­cy. The point is a lot of things in between have changed, but I am on the same course of being inde­pen­dent and pre­pared for a career.

I shared this expe­ri­ence with 200 staff peo­ple from Virginia’s Depart­ment of Juve­nile Jus­tice at their recent Reen­try Sum­mit. They invit­ed me to present a work­shop on the impor­tance and val­ue of hav­ing young peo­ple par­tic­i­pate mean­ing­ful­ly in the devel­op­ment of their own reen­try plans.

I called the work­shop My Life, My Plan” and urged the Vir­ginia DJJ staff to embrace a trans­for­ma­tion to youth-dri­ven reen­try plan­ning. I believe a young person’s best chance to suc­ceed in the com­mu­ni­ty is if he has planned for his chal­lenges, iden­ti­fied his needs and resources and envi­sioned more for his life. DJJ staff and the youth’s fam­i­ly may be co-pilots, but they are not in the driver’s seat. It is the youth’s life to live.

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