The role of families in supporting incarcerated youth in Ohio
In March of 2010, I wrote a piece for Reclaiming Futures about the importance of family for youth in the juvenile justice system and highlighted the Juvenile Relational Inquiry Tool (JRIT). I write with an exciting update that the Ohio Department of Youth Services (DYS) is the first juvenile justice agency to take the tool state-wide with the support of training and technical assistance from Vera’s Family Justice Program.
DYS’s innovation around family engagement was recently highlighted at OJJDP’s annual conference. More detailed research from the first year of Vera’s partnership with DYS—specifically the roll out of the JRIT at two facilities—is now available. The research brief describes the motivation and emotional support families provide to youth, the cost associated with staying in touch during incarceration and reactions of juvenile correctional officers to incorporating the JRIT into their practice.
The role of clergy in fighting addiction
Over the years, I would estimate that two thirds of the human hurt I have encountered in the people I serve has directly resulted from active addiction – or from living with or having lived with an addicted person.
–Rev. F. Anthony Gallagher, MA, Toledo, OH
Clergy can, should and must make a difference in the pain and confusion felt by so many of their congregants, but they must first understand the role that alcoholism and drug addiction play in the insidious social and spiritual erosion plaguing so many of their congregation’s families. Participation in a faith community does not protect against addiction creeping in and destroying a family, but a knowledgeable and caring pastor can foster an openly supportive and healing faith community that invites the suffering to learn and heal – emotionally, physically and spiritually.
Clergy and other pastoral ministers are trained to nurture the spiritual life of their congregants, to help foster a connection to their Almighty and to support them and provide hope as they pass through difficult life struggles. Until recent years, however, their professional training has seldom included adequate education and insights about the problem that causes the most family stress among their congregants. It is a problem that drives so many families to break-up without ever addressing the primary factor in the despair and desperation that pushed them to give up.
Texas county debuts new diversion program for teens
Tarrant County, Texas (where Fort Worth is located) has developed a new program for juvenile offenders that is aimed at youth charged with family violence involving non-intimate relatives. The program, the Youth Offender Diversion Alternative, or YODA, targets youth 17-25 who are charged with such crimes, and it provides intensive counseling to show participants how to make better choices in stressful situations or arguments. If the juvenile completes the program, the charges are dismissed and erased from his or her record.
The program is currently funded through a private grant from the Amon G. Carter Foundation. Public-private partnerships like this are often well-positioned to experiment with creative policy approaches while also limiting costs to taxpayers.
At this point, the 20 graduates of YODA have not committed another offense, and a preliminary study shows decreased aggression and substance abuse problems among participants. The participants also exhibit improvements in mental health and stability. So far, the program provides a reason to be optimistic.
Arguing with parents helps teens stand up to peer pressure
A new study from the University of Virgina found that teens who are comfortable expressing their opinions at home are better able to resist peer pressure to use drugs or alcohol.
As Science Newsline explains:
The researchers looked at more than 150 teens and their parents, a group that was racially, ethnically, and socioeconomically diverse. The teens were studied at ages 13, 15, and 16 to gather information on substance use, interactions with moms, social skills, and close friendships. Researchers used not just the youths' own reports, but information from parents and peers. They also observed teens' social interactions with family members and peers.
They found that teens who hold their own in family discussions were better at standing up to peer influences to use drugs or alcohol. Among the best protected were teens who had learned to argue well with their moms about such topics as grades, money, household rules, and friends. Arguing well was defined as trying to persuade their mothers with reasoned arguments, rather than with pressure, whining, or insults.
Advice for parents of troubled teens
I have a 15-year-old son who, in the past year, has gone from a quiet, well- mannered, well- liked child to a stranger to me. He hasn’t attended school in about two months. He comes and goes as he pleases, he will not respect the curfews I set for him and sometimes is gone for days on end. He has started smoking and he has admitted to smoking weed. He doesn’t listen to anyone and if we try and talk to him he just leaves. I don’t want to throw him out of the house but I just don’t know what to do. His behavior is taking its toll on me. — Noreen
Many parents are struggling with similar problems. So the first thing Noreen should know is that she shouldn’t feel alone.
Look in your neighborhood or church and notice all the parents who seem to have it all together. One of the very first things I would advise you to do is to seek counsel from some of those successful parents. I would also strongly encourage you to establish contact with your son’s school to request assistance in addressing his specific challenges. Our tax supported schools deal with these sorts of challenges every day and many have targeted resources at their disposal to counter these problems. You must ask for information on specific adolescence or male-oriented programs that have proven successful over the years. Then, you must then develop a relationship with the leaders of that program to give them a sense of urgency about your son. Do not be put off by their busy schedules. The old adage “the squeaky wheel gets the grease,” is very true when dealing with most large organizations. You must be diligent and persistent if you truly want to redirect the life of your son.
I would then encourage you to work on establishing lines of communication with your child. It is not unusual for adults to lose the ability to communicate with their children effectively. You must now identify what those barriers are and strategically remove them one at a time.
I would enlist the support of a valued male relative or friend who can oftentimes better identify with younger males because they have already transitioned into adulthood. They can better identify and anticipate what some of the experiences your son has/will encounter. Young men are often confused about where they fit in life and need actual role models to help them work through this sometimes very difficult period. You must partner with a dependable male who has good communication skills, who is willing to spend some-one-on-one time with your son. Many schools and organizations such as the Boys & Girls Clubs, scouting and athletic teams have very active and effective mentoring programs for young people. They do a thorough job of screening and training the adult mentors who work with their students.
3 ways to address teenage motivation to drink that don’t involve scare tactics
When someone – including a teenager – gets treatment for alcohol and substance abuse, it is standard practice to identify some of the reasons why they started using and the benefits they feel they get from these substances. This helps them reduce shame and best identify their triggers and areas to focus on. Among the research, most reasons for using alcohol fall into a few broad categories such as mood or personality enhancement, social reasons, and coping reasons. Reviewing personal motivations for using alcohol is often an “ah-ha” experience for the person seeking help but it needs to be handled with care as there is the potential in such a discussion to make alcohol use seem more appealing.
Nowhere is this concern greater than when attempting to prevent alcohol use in teens as many parents have a justified fear that such a discussion will promote alcohol use in kids who may not have otherwise been aware of the potential short-term “benefits” of alcohol. This fear has often caused parents and caregivers to avoid the topic, focus only on the consequences of drinking or minimize the reasons why people drink – especially with younger children. While reinforcing the consequences of underage drinking is always recommended, understanding teen’s motivations can also be useful to parents as a point for both prevention and early intervention of teenage drinking. Below are a few tips on using teen motivations to intervene and connect with your children.
A useful strategy is to ask teens about what they “expect” to get from drinking. Along with perceived risk, your teen’s alcohol use can be predicted by the expectation that one will feel a certain way when they drink. These expectations are reinforced by the media and by your teen’s peers. Expectations are essentially motivating (I want to relax and I will drink because I expect that it will help me relax). The first step is to identify what your teens think about drinking’s benefits or what drinking may give them. If you can identify the reasons they think people drink (or they drink), it is a point of intervention.
Tailor Your Strategy: Based on the motivations or expectations your teen mentions reports there are several options to continue the conversation.
Sheriff investigator makes a difference in kids’ lives and more -- news roundup
Juvenile Justice Reform
- South Carolina County Sheriff investigator makes a difference in kids’ lives
Richland County sheriff investigator Cassie Radford is working hard to get troubled kids the services they need and to keep them out of jail. The grant that funds Radford's position is in its third year and ends Sept. 30. Richland County prosecutors and judges hope Sheriff Leon Lott finds a way to keep Radford in her position.
- Missouri juvenile office to use electronic monitoring
The expense of sending Linn County’s juvenile offenders elsewhere, coupled with the strict criteria that must be met to detain a juvenile, has prompted the Linn County Juvenile Office to obtain electronic monitoring equipment. Without a juvenile detention center of its own, the Linn County Juvenile Office has been forced to pay the expense of transporting offenders as well as the cost for a bed in Kirksville’s Bruce Normile Juvenile Justice Center.
- New goal for Illinois juvenile center: Clear it out
Cook County’s Board President is advocating a new approach for the county’s juvenile justice system: empty the juvenile detention facility by putting children in group homes, monitored home confinement and other community-based programs where advocates say young people have better opportunities for counseling, job training and other life-skill instruction.
- Kentucky launches pilot program to decrease juvenile detentions
Henderson schools, law enforcement and court officials joined forces with the state to examine why so many teens were being incarcerated. They came up with a pilot program to combat the issue. It includes asking schools to deal with small offenses, instituting a mentor program and encouraging teachers and school officials to meet to review statistics on disciplinary action.
- Washington, DC’s juvenile justice system sees real change
As part of sweeping reforms, DC’s Oak Hill was closed in 2009 and replaced by a smaller and dramatically different facility named New Beginnings Youth Development Center. Youth Radio interviewed DC Lawyers for Youth executive director Daniel Okonkwo about Oak Hill’s impact on DC’s juvenile justice system.
- Wisconsin critics: Stop treating 17-year-olds as adults
Wisconsin is one of 13 states that automatically place 17-year-olds in the adult criminal justice system. In the past few years, almost one-third of states have passed laws to keep more young offenders in the juvenile justice system. Now officials and families are calling on the state to place 17-year-olds in juvenile facilities, mainly for their own safety.
- Benton County’s juvenile center nearly finished
Arkansas’ Benton County's Juvenile Justice Center is nearly complete, with part of the $6 million complex scheduled to open in January. The new facility is twice as large as the current one and will include classrooms and a courtroom in addition to holding cells.
Adolescent Substance Abuse Treatment
- Two key questions are focus of new teen alcohol screener for pediatricians
A new alcohol screening tool that focuses on two key questions is designed to help pediatricians spot children and adolescents at risk for alcohol-related problems. The doctor asks about the patient’s own drinking, as well as his or her friends’ alcohol use.
Helping teens in detention during the holidays
We know that teens in the juvenile justice system generally have better outcomes when they're connected with their families while they're detained or incarcerated. During the holidays, their feelings of isolation and despair are magnified (and their family members often feel the same way).
It can make all the difference to have someone remember them during the holidays, and it can be a great opportunity to partner with community organizations.
- a party or special event at the detention facility (or wherever the youth are locked up);
- a holiday gift-giving event;
- a walk-through of the facility by legislators or local policy makers; or
- a holiday-card campaign.
It's even got sample language for cards, invitations, and a media advisory. Try it -- and let us know how it goes!
When home for Thanksgiving is nothing more than a dream for a boy and his mom
I know a woman in Tennessee whose son was just sent to a youth detention center. He has had some problems with petty crime and drugs, and was sent to a treatment program for kids awhile back. He did not adapt very well to the program, and now he has been sent to this YDC for an indefinite period. He is 17 and the state can hold him until he is 21 if authorities decide he is not ready to be released.
She is trying to figure out how she can go see him for Thanksgiving. He is housed several hours away, and she doesn’t have a reliable vehicle to get her there. She is hoping the boy’s father, who lives in another town, will be willing to take her. Maybe he will.
This is her Thanksgiving.
There is something about the holiday season that makes these situations especially poignant for me. When I was on the inside, holidays weren’t so bad. Often the prisoners would come together and make meals, and guys would normally be a little nicer. We were all missing our families, and somehow that drew us together a little more than during the rest of the year. Somehow we were able to humanize one another a little more.
It’s only been since my release in December of 2009 that I have seen the other side of this story. For the families on the outside it is not a better time of year. When they gather around the table to eat a big meal and celebrate life there is a conspicuous absence. There is a gaping hole where their loved one should be.
Back to the Future: Engaging Families of Youth in the Justice System (VIDEO)
I met Emmitt Hayes about 10 years ago, when I first learned about Reclaiming Futures. He had led Travis County, TX through a project funded inthe mid-1990s by the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT) -- a project that laid the groundwork for Reclaiming Futures. (Interestingly, Travis County, TX is one of our newest sites.)
In the decade since, he's continued to serve Reclaiming Futures as a valued advisor, sharing -- with humor and humility -- his uncompromising commitment to youth and famlies caught up in the juvenile justice system.
When I saw him at the Reclaiming Futures Leadership Institute in Miami in May 2011, I asked him to talk with me a little about what he saw as the most important next step in implementing Reclaming Futures. He reflected briefly on his thirty years of working with youth in the justice system and observed that family engagement was the key to success when he started, and it's still the key, despite years of focus on evidence-based practices in treatment.
But heck, I'll let him tell it. After all, he's a lot more inspiring than I: