How the JJDPA Helps to Improve Outcomes for Youth of Color


Strengthening the legal protections for children and youth involved in the justice system has been a longtime advocacy priority for National PTA. In 2014, PTA urges the 113th Congress to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) to strengthen the law’s four core protections.

Today we hear from Anna Wong, Policy and Research Associate at the W. Haywood Burns Institute, who discusses the importance of the Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC) core protection and how the reauthorization of the JJDPA presents an opportunity to enact policies that would reduce racial and ethnic disparities in the juvenile justice system.

States are required to assess and address the disproportionate contact of youth of color at all points in the justice system – from arrest to detention to confinement.”

This is one of four core requirements of the Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Prevention Act (JJDPA), the federal law that sets standards for the care and custody of youth involved in the juvenile justice system and provides critical funding for the administration of juvenile justice around the country.

The requirement exists for good reason.  Research has long confirmed that youth of color are disproportionately impacted by the juvenile justice system.  Youth of color are significantly more likely than White youth to be system involved at every decision making point.   For example, according to a 2011 one-day count of all youth in residential placement facilities, youth of color were incarcerated at rates that far exceed White youth:

  • Black youth were almost five times as likely as White youth to be incarcerated;
  • Native American youth were more than three times as likely as White youth to be incarcerated; and
  • Latino youth were almost twice as likely as White youth to be incarcerated.

Worse, the incarceration rates are not justified.  The vast majority of youth of color are locked up for non-violent offenses. Policymakers and those working directly with youth must see the connections between the success of these young people now and our nation’s future.

There are a number of barriers to engaging stakeholders in work to reduce disparities. Agencies often lack accurate data to inform decision-making, or do not engage the right stakeholders at the decision-making table.  Sometimes, those leading and working in justice agencies falsely believe that simply acknowledging the existence of disparities is an admission of racism.

Despite these challenges, we know that reducing disparities is achievable. Several jurisdictions around the country have been able to overcome these common challenges, many with the help of the Burns Institute.  Based on our experience, we have learned a few things about what the work is and is not.

As a starting point, the work is collaborative.  Juvenile Justice stakeholders must agree that reducing disparities means working together to improve outcomes for youth of color navigating a rough patch of life.

It is not finger-pointing or blaming the police, judges, or probation officers for the disparities that we see, or assuming that they can solve the problem alone.

It is system stakeholders meaningfully engaging with families and communities most impacted by the justice system.

It is not placing the blame on parents.

It is relying on research and data to inform decision-making.

It is not relying on anecdote and political rhetoric to create policies that harm young people.

In short, the work to reduce disparities is possible.

But states must have stronger guidance. The core protection to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in the JJDPA should be strengthened to provide states with concrete steps to reduce racial and ethnic disparities.

This means having the resources to improve data capacity, support authentic collaboration, and create community-based alternatives to detention.

But states must have stronger guidance. The core protection to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in the JJDPA should be strengthened to provide states with concrete steps to reduce racial and ethnic disparities.

This means having the resources to improve data capacity, support authentic collaboration, and create community-based alternatives to detention.

Since 2002—when the JJDPA was last re-authorized—federal investment in programs that prevent and reduce delinquency has decreased by almost 50 percent. When surveyed by the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, 89 percent of member states reported that due to federal cuts, fewer youth will have access to services to keep them from offending and penetrating deeper into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.

Reauthorizing, strengthening, and fully funding the JJDPA should be a priority in light of our nation’s rapidly shifting demographics.

Anna Wong is a Policy and Research Associate at the W. Haywood Burns Institute (BI). The mission of the Burns Institute is to protect and improve the lives of youth of color and poor youth by ensuring fairness and equity throughout the juvenile justice system.  The Burns Institute has worked with states and counties to reduce racial and ethnic disparities for over a decade, and has seen how the JJDPA has been critical to further this goal.  To learn more about disparities, visit BI’s interactive state data map: Unbalanced Juvenile Justice.

Note: This piece was reposted with permission from the JJDPA Matters Blog, a project of ACT 4 Juvenile Justice, a campaign of the National Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Coalition (NJJDPC) that advocates for reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act. PTA is a proud member of the NJJDPC, a coalition of youth- and family- serving, social justice, law enforcement, corrections, and faith-based organizations working to ensure healthy families, build strong communities and improve public safety by promoting fair and effective policies, practices and programs for youth involved or at risk of becoming involved in the juvenile and criminal justice system.



Why I Appreciate Teachers

Otha_Headshot_SMThis week is Teacher Appreciation Week. It is a time to appreciate and celebrate those teachers in our lives who go the extra mile.  It means so much to parents when educators take special interest in their children’s success, and give the time and attention necessary to see them reach, and surpass, their goals. We know that it is not always an easy feat, but it is definitely necessary. This week, and every day of the year, we thank you for all of your hard work. Without you, the academic success of our youth would not be possible.

I had the honor of attending a special White House ceremony last week in which President Obama announced the National Teacher of the Year. And while there was technically only one winner—Sean McComb from Maryland—in my eyes, they were all winners. We can all be proud of the distinguished leaders that made the final cut. They reaffirm my belief that America’s public school system is the absolute best in the world and is in great hands with passionate, bright energetic teachers leading the way.

As National PTA president, I have also used this week to think and reflect on teachers who have made a difference in my life. One in particular that immediately came to mind was my eleventh grade Advanced Placement European History Teacher, Mr. Ed Thiel. He indeed was one of the teachers that had a profound impact on my educational experience. His passion for teaching and skillful manner in educating our young minds impacted generations of young men and women. His methods transcended the boundaries of a small town and helped us to see our large world from our small town in Elberton, Georgia. He was an encourager and sought the best in every student.

Even to this day, I can hear his voice after I attempted to answer one of his thought-provoking questions. “So, Mr. Thornton, why is that so?” he would ask. “Do you accept that fact as the truth in history, or is it someone else’s version of the truth?” he would follow. His Socratic and philosophical approach to teaching influenced generations of students to dig deeper and think broader on history and the impact that it had on our world.

Mr. Thiel made a very powerful impact on my life. He would spend the first 10-15 minutes of each class discussing current events, which I used during my tenure as an assistant professor years later at Michigan Technological University. His approach of challenging our young minds and questioning everything that we were ever taught helped us eager learners foster critical thinking skills. This gift of cultivating minds to think critically and look at history from different perspectives was priceless in our education.

So today, I salute Mr. Ed Thiel for his impact and exceptional example in the teaching profession along with the countless other teachers around the world who have made it their mission to educate our children.

Otha Thornton is president of National PTA.

If You Really Knew Me

Katie BrownKatie Brown is the 2014 Washington State Teacher of the Year. Katie is an ELL Specialist and Instructional Coach. The following content is reposted from Katie’s blog as Teacher of the Year.

My students are such a source of inspiration for me. Each one of them so diverse, with a special story to tell, unique barriers to overcome, and dreams all their own.

Below is a piece I wrote for the OSPI From Seed to Apple publication. Each regional ToY writes a story from the classroom. A story from the heart. These stories are then shared with our state legislators to give them a glimpse into why we do what we do every day.

We teach kids.

If You Really Knew Me
Voices of Those Often Unheard

If you really knew me,  
You would know that I only slept for three hours last night.
I think the party ended at 4:00 AM?
I’m still here.

If you really knew me,
You would know that I was at the top of my class in China.
I was ready for college.
Will I graduate?

If you really knew me,
You would know that I can’t stay after school even though I need help.
My mom has to go to work. I am responsible.
My brother is only two:
Dinner, bath, bedtime.
I’m only eleven.

If you really knew me,
You would know that I am from El Salvador, not Mexico.
But you can keep calling me Mexican.
I won’t say anything.

If you really knew me,
You would know that my earbuds are blasting Marvin Gaye.
I’m a bit of a Romantic.
What do you think I’m listening to?

If you really knew me,  
You would know that I share a room with five other people.
Do I have a quiet space to do homework?
I’m not sure what you mean.

If you really knew me,  
You would know that my dad was deported last night.
I will stay strong for my mom.
I hope I see him again someday.

If you really knew me,
You would know that I want to succeed.
I can’t act like it. I can’t talk about it.
I hope you can see through me.

If you really knew me,  
You would know that I’m writing a novel.
When I seem to be in my own world, I am.
I created it.
You are welcome to visit any time.

If you really knew me,  
You would know that you are the most important adult in my life.
I won’t tell you that,
But I will eat lunch in your room again tomorrow.

If you really knew me,  
You would know that I am the first one in my family to go to college.
You keep telling me I can go if I choose.
You keep telling me I can go if I want.
You keep telling me.

If you really knew me,
You would know that
My name is Angelica.
My name is Jin.
My name is Thanh.
My name is David.
My name is Jose.
My name is Eddie.
My name is Antonia.
My name is Mario.
My name is Katrina.
My name is Devin.
My name is Parjinder.

Read more inspirational stories from teachers HERE

Teacher Appreciation Week is Now Underway!

Join National PTA in celebrating the hard work of outstanding teachers during National PTA’s  Teacher Appreciation Week May 5-9. This year we commemorate the 30th anniversary of the week and encourage PTAs at the national, state and local levels to recognize the incredible contributions teachers make on behalf of children every day.

Watch the video below to see how several young students plan to # ThankATeacher this week.

Here are some ideas on how you can celebrate teacher’s in your lives:

With your help, this will be the best Teacher Appreciation Week ever! Enjoy the video!


Education Empowers Foster Children

I’ve always loved quotes and motivational-type posters. In my office there is a quote that is in a frame sitting on my desk, and it has been there for 5 years, since we first opened our agency. It says Yesterday is History, Tomorrow a Mystery, and Today is a Gift, That’s Why it is Called the Present. I was looking at the quote recently thinking, why do I have that on my desk? You see, I work with children in foster care, and for children in foster care, today is anything but a gift. In fact, quite the opposite. Their life today is as horrible as it gets, no matter how it might look from the outside. First, they underwent the trauma of being removed from their family due to negligence, abuse or abandonment. Then, there comes the fact that there was not one person in this entire world who was willing or able to take them in to care for them. Trauma.

So I looked at this frame and this quote and thought to myself, I need to find a more appropriate quote for the work that we do. One that comes to mind is by the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, The Journey of 1000 Miles Begins with a Single Step. We quote this to our students all the time, showing them that they can get where they want to go through very small little accomplishments. We believe that education is the key to overcoming adversity and in particular for foster children, whose lives are typically out of their control, what and how much they learn is something they can control. Anything can be taken away from these kids at any time, but what they have learned can never be taken from them. We see it over and over again, education empowers our students!

There are way too many foster children in our state; they are in every county and in every school. More foster families would help, as would more awareness of their needs within the schools they attend. We need to work to together to help these amazing children who did not ask to be born into such tragic circumstances. It just takes a few caring adults to make a difference in their lives! For more information on our programming, please visit

Advocating for Many as One: Every Child in Focus’ Month of the Asian American Child

When entering a new school or applying for a job, the following voluntary ethnicity and race information is requested.

RACIAL CATEGORY (Check as many as apply)

__ American Indian or Alaska Native
__ Asian
__ Black or African American
__ Hispanic or Latino
__ Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander
__ White

Sometimes there are further definitions that accompany the choices such as Asian: A person having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent including, for example, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands, Thailand, and Vietnam, or Native Hawaiian other Pacific Islander: A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands.

In addition to the current definitions, the White House Initiative on Asian Americans (AA) and Native Hawaiian Pacific Islanders (NHPI) is conducting outreach efforts to include all Pacific Islander Americans including Native Hawaiians, Chamoru, Samoan, Tongan, Fijian, Marshallese, Palauan, Pohnpeian, Chuukese, Yapese, Korean and others in the Micronesian, Melanesian and Polynesian Pacific Islander grouping.

If there are no definitions that accompany the ethnicity/race information or if you can only choose one category, then it can be very difficult to make a decision, as the diversity within the Asian American/Pacific Islander classification is robust. For example, there are at least 39 different Pacific Island languages spoken as a second language in the American home.

This is indicative of the many different groups that are included in ‘Native Hawaii or Other Pacific Islander’ category that people may not realize when seeing that category listed on the race/ethnicity information. When looking at Southeast Asia, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is comprised of Brunei Darussalam, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.  North Asia includes countries such as Korea, Japan, China, Taiwan and Mongolia.  Each country mentioned above has its own distinct language (some even more than one dialect), culture and history.  In certain states and cities in the U.S., the various cultures are more distinct than in others. For example, there might be a “Japan town,” a “Korean town,” a “China town,” etc.  But in other states, the cultures are much more blended.  In Hawaii, for example, there isn’t such a distinction between the different cultures because they have blended together throughout to Hawaii’s history to form their own unique Hawaiian culture.

Advocating for the needs of each individual group can be very difficult which they are all combined in one category, as the needs for the individual cultures are sometimes different when considering the needs of students.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, AAs and NHPIs are the fastest growing racial group in the US.  Having one category can sometimes make it easier when advocating for the multiple groups that it is inclusive of, but simultaneously difficult for the specific needs of a particular group that is included.

When advocating in our respective States, or in Washington DC, we want to honor all groups in AA and NHPI by advocating for the best possible education for all students and the natural rights that all children are entitled to.  While we do this we don’t want to forget about the various groups that we are representing.  Although we may choose one or another two or three or more, on an application to best identify our own race or ethnicity, when we advocate we do so for all children because each category is representative of the many groups such as those mentioned above.  Just as the PTA’s motto is ‘every child one voice’ we must advocate for every ethnicity that is represented by AA and NHPI although it may be difficult as each is distinct and unique.  Nevertheless, the needs of all children remains the same, they are all entitled to a quality, inclusive education to reach their fullest potential.

To maximize our advocacy efforts, we must find ways to be advocate for all AAs and NHPIs, while still respective individual ethnicities and cultures.  Some ways we can do this are to refer to cultural experts if there are questions about a particular topic that we’re not sure about.   Diversity training in your local or state PTAs can be an effective way to education everyone on various cultures during which time members from various ethnic groups can share specifics on various concerns that they may be focusing on in their areas.  To better education our leaders, site visits can be arranged for state and federal lawmakers so they can experience the various ethnic art, music, literature and language.  To engage every family, translating legislative materials and PTA information into various languages relevant to the community and providing interpreters when needed is critical for raising awareness about important topics and ensuring that all voices are heard on every level.  Finally, when there are many different groups as with AAs and NHPIs, forming a coalition and working collaboratively as a group is critical to effectively advocating for all with as one voice.

While it may seem like a difficult task to honor all cultures while advocating with one voice, engaging families and seeking a quality education for all children is one of the hallmarks of the PTA and we must persevere through our advocacy efforts.  As we speak to individuals and groups, or to our legislative members in our states or on the hill, we do so as a representative of our ethnicity, but also as a larger ethnic group advocating for the rights of all children.


Jessica Wong Sumida HeadshotJessica Wong Sumida graduated with a MA in Psychology from Chapman University and a JD from Trinity Law School.  She works for Hawaii Behavioral Health and has over 15 years of experience working with the DOE.  She is also the executive director of the Autism Society of Hawaii, serves on the legislative committee of the Children’s Community Council, is the VP for Legislation of the Hawaii State Parent Teacher Student Association, and volunteers on the National PTA Resolutions Committee.