Policy Corner: Janet Forbush on latest policy implications for mentoring

Written by Janet Forbush, Senior Advisor with the Center for the Advancement of Mentoring

April, 2018


A plethora of policy developments across several agencies in the past few weeks at the federal and state levels informs the Policy Column this month. In some instances, the policies are short-term, e.g., 90 days, and will require rulings and negotiations between judges and Trump administration officials to become law.

Whether these constituencies of decision makers will actually work together to reach accord on key matters including the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy is an uncertainty. The toxicity of the policy climate is real. However, this environment offers mentoring advocates an extraordinary opportunity to lend positive voices to the discourse.

Federal and State Developments

DACA: Earlier this week Judge John D. Bates of Federal District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the Trump administration’s decision to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was “unlawful.” This ruling was stayed for 90 days which affords the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) time to explain the reasons for canceling the program. In the event DHS fails to meet this requirement, Judge Bates also required that DHS would then have to “accept and process new as well as renewal DACA applications.”

This recent ruling by Judge Bates differs from previous injunctions by judges in Brooklyn, NY and San Francisco, CA ordering DACA remain in place. Those injunctions did not require the government to accept new applications. There are just over 700,000 DACA immigrants, also known as Dreamers, in the program. Participants are required to renew their DACA status every two years. Though the Trump administration officially rescinded DACA in March, Dreamers have been able to renew applications given the earlier court orders. An administration appeal is anticipated on this new decision.

Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS)/Office of Adolescent Health: On Friday, April 20, DHHS published new rules governing funding of programs to prevent teenage pregnancy. The emphasis of these rules does not exclude programs that provide information about contraception and protected sex, however, there is explicit encouragement around programs that emphasize abstinence or “sexual risk avoidance.”

The new rules move away from earlier requirements that organizations receiving federal money choose from a list of approaches that have been “shown in at least one rigorous evaluation to be effective at changing some sexual behavior, such as reducing pregnancy rates or rates of sexual activity.” Under the Obama administration guidelines, organizations awarded most grants had to use evidence-supported curricula.

Jon Baron, vice president of evidence-based policy at the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, notably a nonpartisan foundation, has been quoted as saying this new DHHS approach is like “starting from ground zero as if nothing has been learned. Until you have an evaluation of an actual program that people are showing up for and an actual curriculum and actual people teaching it, you really don’t have reliable evidence.”

The Health and Human Services Department declined an interview request from the New York Times late last week to discuss the April 20 announcement.

VA Mental Health Legislation: Last month Governor Ralph Northam (D) signed into law a unique piece of legislation requiring mental health instruction for Virginia’s ninth- and 10th graders. In large part, the uniqueness is of this is the genesis of the process leading up to the bipartisan effort to get this through the state legislature.

Three students from Virginia’s Albemarle County began work on this last year as a result of their collective recognition of inherent stress among their classmates as well as their own surrounding their efforts to do well in school, extracurricular activities, and manage the pressures of Facebook and Instagram posts that they were all receiving.

Initially the three students lobbied for more mental health resources in their respective schools at the county level with an eye toward reducing the stigma associated with seeking mental health services. They quickly set their aim higher: a state law requiring mental health instruction for 9th– and 10th graders throughout Virginia. While Virginia’s Standards of Learning include some mental health education, this new law provides an opportunity for the state to review those standards, identify gaps, and address them in the future.

One of the three students who worked on this initiative, who is now a senior at Western Albemarle High, noted that “students are doing too much, and they don’t have individuals in place that can help them deal with the stress and anxiety that come with that. A bad day turns into a bad week and turns into a bad month.”

What a clarion call for more mentors! And let’s never underestimate what our young people can do themselves. Of possible interest to Chronicle readers will be a study published in the March issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry which found that half of U.S. children who receive mental health services get them at school.

Spring Reading Recommendation

Transforming Education Through Restorative Justice, according to author Maisha T. Winn, represents “a paradigm shift in the way Americans conceptualize and administer punishment.” The focus shifts from crime to a focus on harm. The book is to be published in May.

Winn provides a comprehensive account of the value of restorative justice and how contemporary schools “can implement effective practices to address inequalities associated with race, class, and gender. Dr. Winn is the Chancellor’s Leadership Professor in the School of Education at the University of California, Davis, and codirector of the Transformative Justice in Education Center.