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Social Work Receives $75,000 Grant to Help North Country Juvenile Offenders

kim mccoy coleman and akanksha anand

SUNY Plattsburgh’s social work program has received a $75,000 state grant to participate in a program designed to support rural youth who are involved in the justice system.

The state Division of Criminal Justice Services and Office of Youth Justice grant covers three main objectives:

  • Community assessment, where data will be gathered from across the North Country to determine the strengths and needs of the region’s youth and the organizations that serve them
  • Training for those in the youth-justice workforce by expanding field internships for social work students across the region, broadening the network of potential placements across the region covered by the grant beyond Plattsburgh, among other training opportunities
  • Creation of the Trauma-informed Learning Collaborative on Resilience in the North Country, which will feature a monthly Zoom meeting with faculty, students, practitioners and community members who would like to learn about and share what they know about working toward improving the lives of rural youth, families and communities

“This project allows us to help rural youth by offering support to youth- and justice-serving organizations (and their workforce) across the North Country,” said Kim McCoy Coleman, assistant professor in the social work program, School of Education, Health and Human Services. “We aspire to reach out and build relationships with those who share our aims: to help rural youth by promoting resilience.”

akanksha anandDr. Akanksha Anand, lecturer and social work program director, points to the volume of delinquency cases being handled every year in juvenile courts in the United States where the youth are charged with criminal law violations.

“On any given day, nearly 60,000 youth under 18 are incarcerated in juvenile jails and prisons in the United States,” she said. In New York, that figure can be as high as 225 youth per 100,000 incarcerated per day.

Past Trauma Common Denominator

“The juvenile justice system now understands that (past) trauma is the common denominator that fuels delinquent behavior and that therapeutic approaches are far more effective in lowering recidivism rates than punitive approaches,” Anand said.

kim mccoy coleman“For decades now, there has been a push to transform health and human service systems to be more ‘trauma-informed,’” McCoy Coleman said. “This means that organizations of all kinds — healthcare settings such as hospitals and clinics, mental health and addiction centers, child welfare agencies and schools — even our university — are looking to operate differently.

“They are trying to be more sensitive to the needs of individuals who have experienced trauma so that when individuals interact in those systems, they can be supported in their efforts to heal and not hindered in any way; at the very least, to not have the impact of their trauma exacerbated in any way,” she said. “This shift within these health and human service systems is largely referred to as ‘trauma-informed care.’”

McCoy Coleman said that even though the push has been to transform the system, “change happens slowly in health and human services,” she said.

Changing Long-Held Practices

“Agencies and organizations, particularly in rural communities that are often the least resourced, need help in becoming more trauma-informed,” she said. “Changing long-held practices, shifting the culture of an organization, even developing individual trauma-informed skills takes time and money and a great deal of effort and coordination. This generous grant will allow us to do what we can to help support this effort in organizations across Clinton, Franklin, Essex counties and the St. Regis Mohawk Indigenous Tribe.”

Anand said that trauma has emerged as a significant public health concern among juvenile youth “because it has long-term adverse effects on physical and mental health outcomes.”

“Trauma contributes to detrimental health and behavioral health conditions, especially among youth populations,” she said. “People in surrounding communities, especially those with mental illness and substance use disorders, experience trauma in more complex ways.

“Many of us have experienced traumatic events, such as assault, neglect and some different forms of abuse as physical, sexual, and emotional in our own homes, neighborhoods, schools and institutions,” Anand said. “These include jails, prisons and hospitals, where forced restraints and isolation may have been used. However, youth trauma impacts their overall well-being and functioning within their social systems and communities.”

As such, the social work program has opted to support rural youth and families by supporting youth-serving organizations and their workforce, McCoy Coleman said.

“It is slightly upstream from working directly with the youth ourselves; however, our goal is the same: to directly improve the wellbeing of rural youth, families and communities,” she said.

Continue Work Helping Rural Youth

The interdisciplinary campus and community partners who supported the initiative “hope our relationship with DCJS will continue well past this grant, but we know our work to help the rural youth and families in this region will continue for years to come,” McCoy Coleman said. Colleague Anand agreed.

“Our DCJS grant initiatives will increase trauma-informed care, healing and behavioral health access,” Anand said. “We will expand local access to effective mental health, substance use and trauma supports and build on this long-standing work to integrate a healing framework for youth and their families.”

For more information, contact Anand at [email protected] or visit https://www.plattsburgh.edu/programs/social-work-major.html.

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