McCourt’s Center for Juvenile Justice Reform (CJJR) hosted hundreds of researchers, advocates, and policy experts from across the country for the 2017 LEAD Conference focusing on bridging the divide between research, sound policy and evidence-based practice to improve the lives of youth.

The two-day event provided a forum for participants to exchange ideas related to the growing body of research impacting policy and practice within the juvenile justice and related systems of care – and to celebrate the efforts of those who are on the front lines developing and implementing solutions.

The LEAD (Leadership. Evidence. Analysis. Debate.) Conference is an annual event that brings together experts and key stakeholders to examine a particular policy challenge and discuss potential solutions. Recent conferences have focused on education policy and climate change featuring former Education Secretary Arne Duncan and former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, respectively.

Shay Bilchik, founder and Director of CJJR, began the event with welcome remarks that were followed by Georgetown Provost Robert Groves and McCourt Dean Edward Montgomery. Edward Latessa, Director and Professor of the School of Criminal Justice at the University of Cincinnati, then provided an energetic and well-received opening keynote address on translating research into policy and practice.

Panels of distinguished speakers throughout the day offered insight relevant to all stages of the policymaking process.

Jennifer Woolard, Associate Professor of Psychology at Georgetown, advocated for engaging families at all levels of policy formation. Policymakers, she said, often consider parents mere recipients of juvenile justice services, whereas they should be enabling them to be partners who can understand systems, trust institutions and fully participate in the process as a means to improve receptivity to, and the success of, critical interventions.

“Families are better positioned to engage with systems not only when they feel empowered, but are empowered,” she said.

While presenting her research on emerging findings of clear disparities between cognitive abilities and emotional intelligence that defines adolescent brain development, Beth Cauffman, Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Irvine, highlighted some of the challenges with which policymakers must grapple.

She posed to the audience questions for thought: “Are adolescents different from adults, warranting different treatment under the law? If so, where do you draw the line? Where is the boundary?” Answering the initial question in the affirmative, she then challenged the audience to contemplate the changes in policy and practice that better meet the needs of our youth.

Attendees also joined "breakout sessions" led by issue-specific experts with whom they could engage. Breakout topics included advances in child welfare, suspension and expulsion policies and practices, and youth corrections reform.

The conference also marked the 10-year anniversary of the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform and over the lunch hour attendees watched a video commemorating CJJR’s numerous accomplishments over the years. CJJR staff presented Shay Bilchik with a plaque acknowledging his leadership and efforts to cultivate the organization into an invaluable national resource supporting the youth-serving fields. A networking social hour capped the schedule of events on day one.

The second day began with a ceremony in which the McCourt School conferred its first Janet Reno Endowment Women’s Leadership Award upon Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund. Wright Edelman gave remarks calling on conference attendees to remain encouraged and persistent despite the current political climate and reflected on Janet Reno's “legacy of honesty”.

“All of us as individuals should work for other children as we would want for our own,” she told the audience.

President John J. DeGioia called Wright Edelman a “transformative leader” whose work has shaped the lives and futures of innumerable children.

The remainder of the second day was marked by several other breakout sessions, including those focused on advances in trauma-informed approaches across systems of care, reducing racial and ethnic disparities in youth-serving systems, and research-based approaches for multi-system youth. McCourt Professor Carolyn Hill then moderated a discussion with Jodi Sandfort, Professor of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, on the dynamics involved with implementing new initiatives in the public arena.

The Georgetown University Conference Center served as the site for the 2017 LEAD Conference.