Clinton Foundation and Aetna Foundation partner to shine a light on successes in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems through weekly spotlight series

On any given night in America, 50,000 children will go to sleep in a juvenile facility. Compared to their peers outside the juvenile justice system, these children are likely to struggle to finish their education, attain stable employment, and find themselves at higher risk for mental and physical health conditions throughout their lives. Still, their involvement in the juvenile justice system does not define their future.

The stable support of an empathetic adult using trauma-informed, gender-responsive practices makes a tremendous difference in helping youth build resilience and thrive.

The backbone of the system is made up of juvenile justice and child welfare care workers, whose tireless efforts to support some of the most vulnerable children in society often go unnoticed or unappreciated. Case management turnover is as high as 100 percent annually, leading to a lack of institutional knowledge and a lack of consistency for youth.

To address this, we launched a storytelling series this year: Feel Good Friday. The virtual series, which ran on a weekly basis through the summer, was designed to uplift care workers in this sector, with a focus on connection between peers and colleagues. Grounded in participatory research that revealed two key factors for longevity, effective self care, and youth success, the series celebrated the work, acknowledged the stresses, and shared in the ups and downs faced by care workers. Speakers shared the stories of their own wellbeing and professional successes, in the hopes that it would build trust among care workers that support is not just accessible, but also valuable.

Kisai Henriquez: Feel Empowered to Take Action When You See Inequities

Kisai spoke about how to draw strength from personal experience, and her experience witnessing inequities and feeling called to take action to address them.

“Doing case management, or doing community work, there’s a lot of challenging things for us. One of the most disheartening facets of doing this work, for me is witnessing and experiencing the continuous systemic inequities and inequalities, especially for Black and brown youth. And that impacts us as providers, not just the youth and families we’re serving… [I] felt called to do something about that impact on providers.”

Watch the full segment here:

Judge Lisa Campbell: Acknowledge Progress, No Matter How Small

Judge Campbell shared the importance of keeping the focus on families and acknowledging progress in the face of adversity.

“You still have to attach value to the work that you do. And I know that it is sometimes difficult to see or to measure the impact which can be frustrating, or to see what the real impact is in very tangible ways, because at times we’re just focusing on the crisis at the moment. But what I’d like to help you do… is how you can focus on incremental change, understanding that there are going to be setbacks necessarily as a part of this process, but you really focus on the people that you serve.”

Watch the full segment here:

Marie Marino: Don’t Lose Sight of Why You Started

Marie spoke about reminding care workers why they got into the juvenile justice/child welfare work in the first place and finding strength from stories of the people whose lives they change.

“We’ve all been called to this work for a reason. On your best and worst days, tap into your reason. Let it energize you to do what you can, and let it inspire you to go back for more. It can be thankless, exhausting, and some days we may barely be able to peel back a layer of the onion, but then dig deep. And remember, if not you, then who? If not now, then when?”

Watch the full segment here:

For several years, we’ve worked together with partners to prevent youth from entering the juvenile justice system and help frame justice reform as a public health issue. Through community-based action and reform, we’ve helped families across the country build resilience.

In 2019, the Clinton Health Matters Initiative (CHMI), alongside community partners in Florida and California, and with generous support from the Aetna Foundation, launched the Building Communities for Girls to Thrive program, which worked to support girls and gender non-binary youth in the juvenile justice system. Through the program, CHMI hoped to improve long-term health outcomes for girls and gender non-binary youth by supporting trauma-informed, gender-responsive reform to the juvenile justice system. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the program pivoted to respond to community needs including providing thousands of meals to families during quarantines in partnership with World Central Kitchen, thousands of menstrual supplies to young women in partnership with the Alliance for Period Supplies, and hundreds of books to youth in detention who were isolated for their physical safety; despite this pivot, key areas of reform work were still identified and implemented.

“In the spirit of putting on our own oxygen mask before helping others, it’s important for care workers in these sectors to feel like they are able to bring their best selves to the youth they serve. That’s why I’m so proud of how the Feel Good Friday series has emphasized the importance of self-care and the impact of persistence and empathy on youth success, by highlighting individuals’ stories and accomplishments,” said Ashley Smith Juarez, director, Clinton Health Matters Initiative. “My hope is that participants left with a renewed understanding of the network available to them, as well as tips and tools they can bring back to their respective places of work.”

The journey towards a healthier juvenile justice and child welfare workforce — and towards juvenile justice reform in general — will not happen overnight. Through programs like this one, and others, care workers will be equipped with the resources they need to be their best and do their best, in their pursuit of serving vulnerable and deserving members of our society: our children.

Supported by the Aetna Foundation, a national foundation based in Hartford, Connecticut that supports projects to promote wellness, health and access to high-quality health care for everyone. The views presented here are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Aetna Foundation, its directors, officers, or staff.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Clinton Foundation

Clinton Foundation


Working with partners across the United States and around the world to create economic opportunity, improve public health, and inspire civic engagement.