Juvenile Law Center

October 02, 2017

Navigating the Path to a Successful Career: A Closer Look at the Juvenile Justice Center of Philadelphia’s New Career and Technical Education Program

posted by Nadia Mozaffar, Staff Attorney, and Dina Sarver, Legal Intern

Part Four in a blog series about Juvenile Law Center's new report on career pathways for system-involved youth, Improving Access to Career Pathways for Philadelphia's Child Welfare and Juvenile justice System Involved Youth.

Read the series kick off post here >>

Read part one here >>

Read part two >>

Read part three >>


In our last blog post about supporting disconnected youth as they navigate the path to a successful career, we highlighted the significant challenges youth face when placed in juvenile detention and correctional institutions. In such instances not only are youth removed from family and community supports, but interruptions in their education and job training can also become insurmountable barriers to future career success. Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs offered to youth placed in juvenile detention facilities can alleviate some of these educational disruptions. While we continue to advocate for keeping youth out of detention altogether, effective CTE programs within juvenile justice facilities can help youth work towards their career goals even while they are in placement.

The School Program at the Juvenile Justice Services Center of Philadelphia (JJSC) and the Pennypack House School, the school for youth charged as adults detained at Philadelphia Industrial Correction Center, received a Juvenile Justice Reentry Education grant from the U.S Department of Education last year to develop CTE programs for their youth. Three other grants were also awarded to Portland Community College, Saint Paul Public Schools, and Shelby County Public Schools.

JJSC is the only secure youth detention facility in Philadelphia, housing youth between the ages of 13 and 20 who are waiting for their juvenile court hearings. The facility accommodates nearly 5,000 youth per year. The average length of stay varies, but is typically around 10 to 15 days. We spoke to Deana Ramsey, the principal of the School Program at JJSC to learn more about the JJSC CTE program and the successes and challenges faced during its implementation.

Ms. Ramsey explained that the JJSC CTE program was developed through a partnership with C-Tech, a company that provides curricula, lesson plans, and other resources to institutions developing career training programs on a variety of technical skills. JJSC currently offers programs in the telecommunications, network cabling, energy management, and fiber optics fields—subject areas that lead to in-demand jobs. Youth ages sixteen and older can participate in the CTE courses and must generally complete 30 to 40 hours of coursework in a subject to receive a credential. Each credential takes an average of 15 to 20 school days to attain. The courses are structured so participating youth have CTE training in the morning, and take English, Math, and Social Studies courses in the afternoon. In addition to the courses, the grant includes funding for support services such as guidance and career counseling, workforce readiness training, and mentoring. Ms. Ramsey even provides some impromptu career advising sessions to accompany the courses by inviting technicians and contractors that are working in the school to speak to the youth about their jobs.

As with many CTE (and other educational) programs at detention facilities, Ms. Ramsey does find the brief time that youth are at the facility to be a challenge. The JJSC CTE program currently has a completion rate of 30%, as many youth return to their community schools or are placed in longer term residential facilities before they have the opportunity to complete their credentials. However, the structure of the courses allow for youth to continue their education in other institutions where similar CTE programs are offered. Each credential program is accompanied by a standardized task list where instructors can record the accomplishments of the students in the subject. Ideally, students can take their task lists to CTE programs at community schools, skills centers, or other placement facilities and build upon the tasks they have already completed. JJSC’s grant also includes support for transition services that ensure students are placed into CTE programs when they reenter their communities post-release.

We have highlighted two recommended solutions to the challenge of completing CTE education in our “Improving Access to Career Pathways for Philadelphia’s Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice System Involved Youth” report. First, programs at juvenile detention facilities, such as the program at JJSC, are most successful if there are robust CTE offerings for youth transferring out of detention into community schools or longer-term residential placement. Youth must be able to continue the courses and programs they began to take at facilities such as JJSC and complete them at their next educational setting. Second, such schools and facilities must create streamlined procedures to transfer their youths previously earned CTE credits. Youth must receive appropriate credit for previous education and training, so they can build upon the skills they have acquired instead of continually repeating courses and trainings.

Despite the challenges, the JJSC program has enjoyed some significant successes since the classes were officially started in December 2016. One hundred students participated in the inaugural courses, and the program met all of its target goals as established by the Department of Education. Ms. Ramsey and the JJSC staff have developed partnerships with the District Attorney’s Office, Junior Achievement, and many other organizations and government offices that provide technical support to the program. As the program develops, Ms. Ramsey hopes to build additional relationships with judges and probation officers so that they understand the accomplishments of the students in the CTE program. Ms. Ramsey is also focusing on developing partnerships with unions that can facilitate apprenticeships and jobs for youth as they complete their programs. Overall, Ms. Ramsey hopes that the CTE programs at JJSC can expose youth to new skills and technical fields, and give them helpful information about the career paths they can pursue with their CTE training and credentials.

Our hope is that programs like the CTE program at JJSC can be replicated around the country so many more youth make meaningful progress towards their career goals even while they are detained. We know that minimizing education disruptions through CTE programs can mitigate against the harms of detention, and hope that the success of JJSCs program can help fuel more innovative education programs for youth.

Tags:Access to Education|Child Welfare and Foster Care|Community and School Reentry|Juvenile and Criminal Justice|Reducing Transfers to the Adult System|Second Chances

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