(Chicago) – A delegation of juvenile justice leaders from Uganda visited TASC on September 24 for an exchange of ideas and strategies for serving youth who come in contact with the justice system.
As part of the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) of the U.S. Department of State, the delegation of six leaders representing the Ugandan high courts, public prosecutions, and non-government organizations (NGOs) visited TASC to learn about justice reform, community-based alternatives to detention, and reentry programs.
The discussion, led by George Williams, vice president of community and government affairs for TASC, highlighted key approaches for diversion and reentry programs, as well as common challenges in providing opportunities for youth.
“The most important thing we do is engage with the youth,” said Anthony Harden, TASC juvenile justice services administrator. He emphasized the critical role and dedication of TASC care coordinators like Breanna Hollie, who co-presented with Harden. “We try to find something positive that youth will connect with.”
For instance, Harden noted, if a youth is doodling while TASC is conducting an assessment, that’s an opportunity to find out about the youth’s interest in art.
“In that case, we’ll find resources on art to support their interest,” said Harden. “We’ll learn where they grew up, what they want to do, where their strengths are… And we’ll connect them with mentors. We help youth understand that we work with the justice system, but we’re not the justice system. Our role is to be there for the youth, to be their advocates.”
TASC’s services for youth include prevention programs, diversion alternatives, court services, and post-detention reentry.
“We are committed to ensuring that there are alternatives at every point in the system,” said Alicia Osborne, director of operations for TASC.
The discussion highlighted opportunities such as strength-based approaches and balanced and restorative justice (BARJ), as well common challenges for youth who come in conflict with the law, whether in the U.S. or Uganda. Many come from environments of poverty, where family and social structures have been weakened, and where opportunities for work and education are lacking. In Uganda, delegates noted, in addition to facing poverty, children may be detained hundreds of kilometers from home, where they are far from family and may encounter language barriers as well.
While challenges are ever-present, the Ugandan delegates and TASC leaders shared a commitment to solutions that give youth and their families the opportunity to succeed.
“We can’t necessarily change the community environment,” acknowledged Williams. “But we can help our clients develop the protective skills and mindset to help them as they navigate back to their community. We help them find out, ‘What is my personal capital so I can change my relationship with the community?’”
The International Visitor Leadership Program is the U.S. Department of State’s premier professional exchange program. Past participants in the program include 35 current and 300 former chiefs of state or heads of government. In partnership with IVLP, the visit was facilitated by WorldChicago, a nonprofit organization that promotes citizen diplomacy and international exchange.