Over the past decade, FFI has forged strong relationships with exceptional leaders in a range of fields and professions who are deeply committed to increasing equitable access to wellbeing. We are thrilled that one of those leaders, Phyllis Becker, former Director of the Missouri Division of Youth Services, has joined us as a Fellow. Phyllis brings her commitment and passion to help build visibility and reach for a wellbeing orientation in juvenile justice. In our Q&A with Phyllis she reflects on her career, trends in the juvenile justice field and the potential of connecting wellbeing with juvenile justice reform efforts.
Q: FFI built a relationship with you as part of our partnership work with the Missouri Division of Youth Services (DYS). You served in a variety of roles at DYS over the years from front line manager and direct treatment staff to Deputy Director responsible for leadership development and quality improvement to your appointment as Director. As you look back on your time with DYS, what do you see as the most significant factors that helped you all get closer to your vision that every young person served by DYS will become a productive citizen and lead a fulfilling life? What are you most proud of during your time at DYS?
A: I came back to DYS in 2009 to give back to a system that shaped me as an individual and how I have worked with children, youth, families, and communities in significant and positive ways. And as they say, all things come full circle – so during my second “tour” with DYS, I was able to draw from what I learned in the past, combined with what I have learned now. Factors in my career with DYS that contributed to and continue to fulfill DYS’ vision include:
- During my first years of service with DYS, as frontline staff, I had the great fortune to be a part of the evolution of the treatment approach in DYS. I was part of a team led by an innovative leader (Gayle Hobbs) from whom I learned what it means to be relentless in one’s advocacy and positive treatment of youth and families. I also learned and continue to be mindful about the importance of healthy culture, teamwork, staying focused on the mission and of investing in staff capacity.
- When I came back to DYS and began working with Tim Decker who was the Director, the DYS leadership and staff teams, it was all about building on the many strengths in the organization, and that continued to be my focus as a Director.
- In addition, working with partners such as the DYS Advisory Board, the Family and Community Trust/ Community Partnerships, the Local Investment Commission, Families and Schools Together, Midwest Center for Nonprofit Leadership, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Full Frame Initiative and others was an investment in DYS leadership and the staff who work with the youth every day.
- A systemic approach to the work was critical in responding to real issues and needs vs. reacting to symptoms. The work with FFI helped DYS to maintain that systemic viewpoint, solidify a focus on wellbeing and revitalize our treatment planning process to better build on the strengths and address the needs of our youth and their families.
- DYS’ deepening commitment to the vision, values, mission that supports the wellbeing of youth and family could only be accomplished and put into operation by the leaders and staff who care about young people and do the work to guide and support them on a positive trajectory.
During all my combined years at DYS, I am most proud and appreciative of all the past and present leaders and staff teams who have built and continue to strengthen an approach that results in positive outcomes for youth (many who had been given up on) and their families who dreamed of a better future for their children.
Q: A lot has changed in the juvenile justice field. What do you see as the most important trends and changes happening in the field right now?
A: I believe there is a growing understanding and consensus of what works for youth and families in juvenile justice and also what does not work. Young people bring into the juvenile justice system their strengths, needs, family dynamics, and how they have been impacted by their communities. We know that focusing on wellbeing, having a developmental and systemic approach, understanding adolescence and brain development, addressing youth’s history and cultural challenges works. Supporting young people’s wellbeing is the pathway to build resilience, understand the impact of trauma, and the challenges they face in their lives. There is a synergy and growing body of research to support these approaches and optimal practices, including the work at FFI.
Q: We are certainly thrilled that you have decided to take on the role of Fellow with FFI and that you remain an active leader around the issues you care about. How do you see wellbeing being connected to juvenile justice reform efforts? What do you think the potential is of integrating a wellbeing lens into these efforts?
A: A wellbeing approach in juvenile justice is a natural framework to integrate what we know and are learning about adolescence and positive youth development, and the importance of supporting and building resilience in the face of and aftermath of trauma. In addition, this framework encompasses the intersection of external factors impacting our youth and families in their communities and in our country. The systemic focus of a wellbeing approach and of moving beyond initial change to sustainable change is also very helpful in wrapping one’s arms around the complicated and complex issues and needs of those touching the Juvenile Justice system.