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PbS 25th Anniversary Spotlight: Kids Got Talent Contest

The Kids Got Talent contest was first introduced in 2015 as a way to celebrate PbS’ 20th anniversary. Understanding the importance of giving kids a chance to be kids, we announced a talent contest to all participating facilities and the response was incredible. We saw entries from gifted youths across the country, showing off their creativity through writing, singing, athletic abilities and much more. Each year Performance-based Standards (PbS) continues to receive a wide variety of talents by way of the staff that support this contest, and their dedication does not go unnoticed.

The team at Maricopa County Juvenile Detention Center – Durango in Arizona incorporated the talent contest into their Facility Improvement Plan. Staff fear for safety was identified as an area of improvement and one of the plan’s action steps included modifying behavior management plans. Staff developed a plan that would use the talent contest as an accountability tool for youths. Last year, they were able to submit entries for 12 out of about 30 youths that were interested, and the youths who participated in the contest continued to model appropriate behaviors, while also using their creative minds. But they did not stop there, as programmers, line staff and over 20 youths put together a talent show in an effort to help reduce fear for safety and the facility plans to include city police officers in a future production to strengthen communication between youths and law enforcement. Bryan LaBrake, PbS site coordinator, believes this was a success for the facility: “The youths that were frequently displaying positive behaviors were able to participate in the contest. It helped motivate a lot of our youths, as we had about 30 who were trying to participate. This also helped the staff get more involved with the youths’ preparation. Collectively, youth and staff engagement were enhanced.” PbS was thrilled to have one of their entries perform live at the annual awards night in 2019.

Joy Yocum, a music therapist from Central Oklahoma Juvenile Center, explains how she uses the contest as an avenue for healing: “For me, part of doing music as therapy, is that I honor when the kids tell their stories in the rap and songs they write. I believe it to be therapeutic for them to express their feelings about their history and have someone listen in a non-judgmental way. However, that being said, I do encourage them to avoid gang and crime related things when performing. As I work with them, I encourage them to also write songs about what they hope for the future as well as find things they can be grateful for. It is such a privilege to get to see the youths’ eyes light up when they make music!”

PbS appreciates the efforts of the staff and leadership that make this program a success. We encourage participants to allow youths to explore their creativity and submit videos. If you implemented the Kids Got Talent Contest into your facility’s improvement plan or hosted a talent contest at your facility, tell us. We would love to hear how you integrate music and the arts into your program.

About the author



PbS measures and monitors facility practices by collecting and reporting data from administrative records and survey responses from youths, staff and families to provide a holistic picture of the conditions and quality of life in residential facilities, highlights the practices that are effective in promoting youths’ healthy maturation and identifies those that are not. PbS data is reported every April and October.  PbS trains staff to use the information to change practices and support reforms implementing the adolescent development approach.

PbS has been a partner in assisting this facility to become a dynamic work environment that is not satisfied with maintaining the status quo.