Laurie Spivey

Recent Posts

Locking Up Youth for Status Offenses Is Counterproductive

Posted by Laurie Spivey

Putting youth behind bars for status offenses doesn't make communities safer

I am 38 years old. I am a wife and mother of three kids. We live in the suburbs with our dog, a hamster and two fish. I take my kids to gymnastics class, and I wait in the car-pool line. My life is not unusual. It’s just that I have an extraordinary job. 

For 14 years now, I have worked with kids who are on probation and parole. When I say the words “probation” or “parole,” I get lots of interesting reactions. Many people don’t seem to know that kids go to prison in America. Their kids haven’t been incarcerated, and so, it’s the furthest thing from their minds. The facts of youth incarceration in America are heart wrenching. While most people imagine young people to be behind bars for violent offenses, this is not the reality. According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, the real truth is that 95 percent of kids held in detention centers are not there as a result of violent behavior. Perhaps more shocking is the fact that a large percentage are detained and sometimes even placed long term for status offenses.

 status offenses are counterintuitive

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Topics: Juvenile Justice Reform

How MST Achieves Long Lasting Results

Posted by Laurie Spivey

The nine principles of MST ensure that the treatment gains continue

Since becoming involved with Multisystemic Therapy (MST) 13 years ago, I have probably been asked 1,000 times what MST is or what I do. It can be a complicated question to answer only because MST does so many things. We solve problems. We keep at-risk kids at home. We empower good people to be great parents. We make communities safer. We save taxpayer dollars. We champion juvenile-justice reform...honestly, I could go on. 

I am proud of my work and the collective work of MST teams across the globe. While there may have been a few parties or family gatherings at which it would have been nice to provide a shorter answer like “I teach third grade,” I’m glad I do what I do. But perhaps the part that makes me most proud is our treatment generalization.

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Topics: Multisystemic Therapy

Labeling Troubled Youth

Posted by Laurie Spivey

MST moves beyond the labels that stigmatize troubled youth

Labels. Labels we are given, and ones we take on and allow to define us. For young people who are involved in juvenile justice, and for many who become MST clients, labels can get in the way of success. Maybe they are marked as “bad kids” because they are on probation or parole. Maybe it’s a mental health diagnosis or a learning disability that is allowed to become their label. Some kids are remembered for a crime they committed or by the reputation their families have in the community. Thankfully, we don’t live in the 17th century and have to literally wear a scarlet letter stitched across our clothing. Being put into a category can still be incredibly damaging and difficult to overcome. In particular, when we internalize it.

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Topics: Troubled Youth

Not Your Typical Father's Day Story

Posted by Laurie Spivey

When a gang leader uses his influence for the good of his child

This is a story about a father. Mind you, not your typical Father’s Day story. This is about a man who knew his influence and used it to change the direction of his son’s life. It’s about a therapist who understood the importance of fathers, and who had the insight and willingness to do “whatever it takes” to change the life of a kid, a kid that most people thought was a lost cause. 

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Topics: MST Success Stories

Celebrating Moms on Mother's Day

Posted by Laurie Spivey

A mom, a daughter, an MST therapist, Jennifer Cottingham-Lane juggles it all, and does it well

It’s before dawn in Houston, Texas and MST Therapist Jennifer Cottingham-Lane is up packing lunches for her children and preparing for another long day. Jennifer doesn’t even get one day a week to sleep in. Most nights, she goes to bed with her phone’s volume turned way up, just in case one of her MST families needs her. A single mom with two children of her own and a former college athlete, Jennifer coaches 8-10 year olds in track. Her kids run track and play baseball and somehow she manages to fit it all in, even though it means seeing her MST families on the weekends, early in the morning, or in the evenings. Jennifer is a master juggler. She has to be.

mothers day mst jennifer cottingham lane.jpg Jennifer and her daughter, whom she coaches

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Topics: MST Success Stories

Rehabilitating Juvenile Offenders Saves Over $2 Million a Youth

Posted by Laurie Spivey

Pay for prevention now, or pay for detention later

It just makes sense. Lock up a kid with other delinquents, not much good will come of it. Charles Dickens wrote at length about the destructive effects of prisons (called bridewells in Victorian England), workhouses and debtors prisons. In the same era, journalist Henry Mayhew documented that institutions for the poor and criminal were better at teaching crime than reforming. The notion of “schools for crime” is nothing new.

When the youth is released they often get into trouble again, using the knowledge gained in juvie and turnstiles back in.

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Topics: Juvenile Justice Reform

Should Troubled Teens Go to Wilderness Programs or Boot Camps?

Posted by Laurie Spivey

If you're thinking of sending your teen to a wilderness program or boot camp, think twice

It's not uncommon for an overwhelmed parent to say, “I need to send him [or her] someplace else.” Whether a young person is running away, refusing to attend school, using drugs or is involved in crime, many parents come to believe military-style boot camps or wilderness programs are the only options left. Heavily marketed and popularized in the 1990s, some parents see boot camps as the way to send a clear message to their kids that their behavior will no longer be tolerated.

But is a boot camp or wilderness program really the most effective way to handle a teen’s unacceptable behavior? There may be more effective alternatives.

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Topics: Troubled Youth

President Obama’s Words Moved Me to Action

Posted by Laurie Spivey

It's not about politics, it's about the future of our children

Jan. 10, 2017 marked the day Barack Obama gave his last televised speech as President of the United States. Almost immediately commentators began discussing and dissecting it. Through the whirlwind of news coverage that followed the address, one moment in particular kept coming back to me. Obama said something that resonated much like a call to action. "If we are unwilling to invest in the children of immigrants just because they don’t look like us, we will diminish the prospects of our own children because those brown kids will represent a larger and larger share of America."

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Topics: Juvenile Justice Reform

Words That Hide the Reality of the Juvenile Justice System

Posted by Laurie Spivey

A look behind the euphemisms that proliferate the system

Imagine that you are sitting in court with your teenage son or daughter. The judge orders your child to six months living in a "training school" to address the concerns of the court. What would you imagine that to be? Something like a military school or a boot camp? A cluster of cabins in the woods where kids do ropes courses and practice trust falls?

The truth is that most training schools are thinly veiled youth prisons. Commonly referred to as "secure placements," they are actually cinder-block buildings behind barbed-wire where children wear orange jumpsuits, rubber shoes and handcuffs. They live in cellblocks and behind bars, get limited contact with their families and are at high risk of sexual and physical abuse. There is an intentional glazing over of the horrors within these facilities, under-reporting of crimes against young people behind bars and a number of creative euphemisms aimed at shielding us from the truth. 

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Topics: Juvenile Justice Reform

Police in Schools: Benefit or Liability?

Posted by Laurie Spivey

Are police in schools a good thing?

When my parents were in school, the halls were "patrolled" by P.E. teachers or vice principals. They were typically looking for kids loitering, chewing gum or sometimes, fighting. The sad reality is that times have changed drastically in the wake of high-profile shootings such as Columbine High School and Sandy Hook Elementary. 

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Topics: School Safety