The Pennsylvania Academic/Career & Technical Training Alliance (PACTT) originated in 2008 as a response measure to shortcomings evidenced within the Commonwealth’s system of residential and non-residential service providers of delinquent youth. Information gathered from Pennsylvania’s two largest urban centers (Philadelphia and Allegheny Counties) indicated that young people placed in juvenile justice programming facilities were failing to achieve acceptable results in three critical areas:
1) High school graduation;
2) Transition to post-secondary schools or training programs, and;
3) The ability to obtain employment.
Perhaps the most alarming statistic was the fact that nearly 80% of youth returning to Philadelphia County from placement failed to graduate high school. Essentially, the system designed to help offenders, was somehow disadvantaging them further in ways that were not immediately recognizable.
Armed only with a commitment to address these deficiencies, the founding PACTT staff successfully identified a group of partners that were willing to assist the initial project with financial support. Those partners included:
- The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
- The Pennsylvania Commission on Crime & Delinquency
- The Stoneleigh Foundation
- The Pennsylvania Council of Chief Juvenile Probation Officers
In order to identify potential solutions to the problems recognized, PACTT staff understood the need for input from a broad spectrum of Pennsylvania sponsors. They solicited input from well-established, widely acknowledged groups and individuals dedicated to improving academics, career technology and employment opportunities for youth across the Commonwealth. This core group assisted with the development of foundational activities and expectations that would ultimately evolve into the PACTT standards currently required for affiliation. Those participants included members from:
- The Philadelphia Youth Network
- The Three Rivers Youth Council
- Lehigh County Career & Technical Training Center
- The Pennsylvania Council of Chief Juvenile Probation Officers
- Juvenile Law Center of Pennsylvania
The workgroup effort helped to identify the overarching goals of the project and developed key resources used to implement those objectives. Perhaps the most notable of those resources is the Employability Soft Skills Manual (ESSM) which is a framework document that identifies 27 key competencies within five general domain areas recognized as essential in preparation for successful employment.
In addition to that single resource document, the development team collectively established the commitments necessary for PACTT affiliation. Those factors remain the core elements of obligation necessary to maintain good standing in the program and include the following 13 expectations:
- Teach the Employability Soft Skills Manual (ESSM) to all youth in the program.
- Ensure the ESSM Checklist follows the youth at discharge and is included in the youth’s permanent education and probationary discharge packet.
- Facilitate the development of a portfolio for all youth participating in the program.
- Offer at least one basic, high demand certification (e.g. ServSafe, OSHA Series, ICDL or MOS, etc.).
- Provide at least one Career & Technical Education track that meets PACTT minimum requirements OR offer services that assist youth to access career/technical training, post-secondary education, and/or employment seeking activities.
- Ensure the list of completed industry competencies accurately reflects progress realized during enrollment. Transition activities should include transfer of this material and formal case management efforts designed to assist youth with school or training enrollment and/or employment.
- Make every effort to provide opportunities for youth to earn real life work experiences. Providers are expected to develop a working relationship with their local Workforce Investment Board Youth Division and register their students with PA Careerlink.
- Maintain a rigorous academic curriculum fully aligned with PDE academic standards.
- Offer credit recovery and acceleration opportunities.
- Provide remediation opportunities in both numeracy and literacy.
- Secure and provide academic records in a timely fashion (10 day limit target).
- As appropriate, assist youth with GED activities including preparation and testing.
- Provide data to PACTT in accordance with established expectations.
The project commenced in very modest fashion with nine affiliates specifically recommended by the PA Council of Chief Juvenile Probation Officers. Over the next five years, PACTT expanded from those nine original affiliates to a total of 23 participating agencies.
In 2013 the project exhausted the limits of its funding source and although there clearly remained significant need for the initiative, the financial uncertainty was of primary concern. This reality prompted the founding PACTT staff and representatives from the Juvenile Law Center to approach executive level decision makers from both DHS and the Juvenile Court Judge’s Commission to explore sustainable funding options for the project.
Utilizing Commonwealth monies made available from the closing of Pennsylvania’s largest secure residential treatment center, PACTT found its permanent home within the Bureau of Juvenile Justice Services (BJJS). The Secretary of DHS identified the adoption of PACTT as not only a measure of assurance for the long-term viability of the initiative, but also an important transition within BJJS from quasi-competitor to a true support service provider.
In order to most effectively promote the conveyance of institutional knowledge and history, a full year was devoted to the transitional activities. This period included co-development of an extensive library of resources, deliverables and activities including:
- The creation of Desk Manuals for all PACTT positions
- Development of a Joint Position Statement identifying important system stakeholder commitments necessary for moving forward
- Shadowing affiliation and re-affiliation activities
- Participation in Partnership Recruitment
- Community Outreach
- Formal Conference Presentations
The mission of the PACTT Alliance is to support our affiliated agencies efforts in the provision of relevant, high-quality academic and career technical education activities that best prepares their clients for transition and successful return to their home communities.