Healthy Returns Initiative

The California Endowment 

The Challenge:  Communicating Complex “Systems Change” to Policymakers and the Public

Across the nation and in California, youth with unaddressed mental and physical health issues are entering the juvenile justice system at alarming rates.  Although a primary goal of the California juvenile justice system is the rehabilitation of juvenile offenders, county probation departments lack appropriate placement options for youth with severe mental illness and have limited access to community-based services for youth with less severe mental health and substance abuse disorders. These inadequacies contribute to the ineffective use of probation resources and longer stays for youth in detention facilities.

The Healthy Returns Initiative was created by The California Endowment to strengthen the capacity of county juvenile justice systems to improve health and mental health services, and ensure continuity of care as youth transition back to the community. Launched in 2005, the foundation provided grants to five probation departments in Humboldt, Los Angeles Santa Clara, Santa Cruz and Ventura counties. While the pilot programs were successful in their efforts, the lesson learned from the initiative were comprehensive and involved multiple agencies and partners.  Grantees did not have the capacity to tease out the key finding s and recommendations from their efforts and share what they learned with other counties.

Our Role

In 2009, The California Endowment hired i.e. communications to synthesize the key strategies from the initiative in a user-friendly toolkit and broadly disseminate the lessons learned.  We created and implemented a strategic plan, which outlined tactics, tools, and timing to communicate to share the results of the Healthy Returns Initiative to opinion leaders, policymakers, and county agencies.

Key Deliverables

  • Research – We interviewed Healthy Returns Initiative stakeholders and grantees and conducted supplementary research on relevant policies and programs to inform the development of materials highlighting the lessons learned.
  • Collateral Materials – To support the adoption of the successful strategies from the Healthy Returns Initiative, we developed and distributed a six-part toolkit, Promising Practices from the Healthy Returns Initiative: Building Connections to Health, Mental Health, and Family Support Services, which highlighted the core components of the county programs. We also created the website,, to host the initiative materials.
  • Target Audience Development – To increase awareness among local, state and national key audiences, e. researched relevant stakeholders and created a database of more than 2,000 contacts for materials distribution. 
  • Conference Workshop i.e. communications developed a communications strategy targeting the annual Beyond the Bench conference, held by the Administrative Office of the Courts, Center for Children and Families, which brings together more than 1,000 juvenile dependency and delinquency professionals from across California. We proposed, developed content, and coordinated a conference workshop featuring Healthy Returns Initiative grantees.


  • Shared Promising Practices – The Healthy Returns Initiative was able to successfully share successful strategies with a broad spectrum of relevant stakeholders. The toolkit was sent in hard copy and emailed to a targeted database of more than 2,000 policymakers, practitioners, and other stakeholders. In addition, strategies from the initiative were presented to social workers, probation staff, and providers in workshops at several conferences, including Beyond the Bench in 2009 and the California Probation, Parole and Correctional Association annual training session in 2011.
  • Provided an Information Platform e. communication’s easytonavigate website created for the Healthy Returns Initiative provides users with a comprehensive list of resources and links relevant to juvenile justice reform. In one year, the reports hosted on the website were downloaded more than 4,000 times.
  • Garnered Media Attention – The Healthy Returns Initiative strategies were referenced in a widely published oped authored by Marian Wright Edelman, President of the Children’s Defense Fund.
  • Referenced in Recent Studies – The promising strategies from the Healthy Returns Initiative have been highlighted in several reports calling for juvenile justice reforms:
  • Mentally Ill Juveniles in Local Custody: Issues and Analysis, California Corrections Standards Authority, June 2011.
  • Task Force for Criminal Justice Collaboration on Mental Health Issues: Final Report, Administrative Office of the Courts, April 2011.
  • Renewing Juvenile Justice, Center of Juvenile and Criminal Justice, March 2011.
  • Healthy Communities Matter: The Importance of Place to the Health of Boys of Color, PolicyLink, June 2010.

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