Blog: Family Involvement

Girls and Opioids: Vulnerabilities & Opportunities

In two separate blog posts in 2016, we discussed opioid use rates and substance use issues among adolescent girls involved with juvenile justice. In July 2017, the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women’s Health (OWH) released a report on opioid use, misuse, and overdose in women. The report provides information on the gender-specific issues and gaps in knowledge regarding females with substance use concerns/disorders. The report discusses the differences among females and males regarding the progression of substance use, the biological, social, and cultural issues (e.g., pain; relationships; family/parenting; trauma, determinants of health), effective treatments and barriers to implementation, and areas for further research. As it relates to adolescent girls (ages 12-17 years old), the report indicates they are more likely to use and become dependent on non-medical uses of prescription drugs as compared to adolescent boys. Access to prescription drugs can come from a home medicine cabinet and may help relieve mental health or physical pain symptoms and/or be part of their peer culture.

Year 2 Update! Reclaiming Futures' Version of Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT)

As many of you know, Reclaiming Futures was awarded a Conrad N. Hilton Foundation grant in September 2014. The purpose of this grant is to develop, pilot test, evaluate, and disseminate a new version of SBIRT for youth at risk for deeper involvement with the juvenile justice system. As a first step, Reclaiming Futures issued a request for proposals and awarded five sites to help us in the endeavor. The sites selected, through a competitive process, were:

  • Chittenden County, Vermont
  • King County, Washington
  • Mecklenburg County, North Carolina
  • Nassau County, New York
  • Washington County, Oregon

Talking About Addiction

On June 1, 2016, our Reclaiming Futures national executive director Evan Elkin spoke at Red Emma's in Baltimore for Open Society Institute-Baltimore's second event in their "Talking About Addiction" series. Elkin was accompanied on the panel by Dr. Hoover Adger from Johns Hopkins Children's Center and by Carin Callan Miller, who founded Save Our Children Peer Family Support. The conversation was moderated by Scott Nolen, director of OSI-Baltimore's Drug Addiction Treatment Program. A full room of community members joined them for the evening, including families affected by adolescent addiction.

Youth, Addiction and the Juvenile Justice System

Whereas the first "Talking About Addiction" event explored alternative law enforcement approaches to addiction, this event focused on youth, addiction, and the juvenile justice system. Despite public acknowledgment of the failures of the "War on Drugs," and an increased understanding of addiction as a public health issue rather than a criminal justice issue, OSI-Baltimore recognizes that research and policy around adolescent addiction are slow to reach the mainstream. Indeed, during the discussion, some attendees expressed frustration with how long addiction treatment reform is taking; OSI moderator Nolen suggested reassurance that the addiction paradigm is finally shifting.

Senate Judiciary Approves Criminal Justice Bill with Juvenile Provisions; News Roundup

Every week Reclaiming Futures rounds up the latest news on juvenile justice reform, adolescent substance use treatment, and teen mental health. 

Senate Judiciary Approves Criminal Justice Bill with Juvenile Provisions (Juvenile Justice Information Exchange)
Yesterday the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill would reform policies for youth in prison, as well as help with the process of re-entry into the community.

NASADAD Releases a State Adolescent Substance Use Disorder Treatment and Recovery Practice Guide

The National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors, Inc. (NASADAD) “…purpose is to foster and support the development of effective alcohol and other drug abuse prevention and treatment programs throughout every State.” NASADAD has recently achieved this purpose by the development of the State Adolescent Substance Use Disorder Treatment and Recovery Practice Guide (see link below).

Recapping the 2014 Georgetown Training Institutes

National HarborLast week I traveled to National Harbor, Maryland to attend the 2014 Georgetown University Training Institutes on improving services and supports for children, adolescents, and young adults with or at risk for mental health challenges and their families, along with Reclaiming Futures Fellowship Program Manager, Christa Myers.

This year the conference theme was, “Improving Children’s Mental Health Care in an Era of Change, Challenge and Innovation: The Role of the System of Care Approach” with an estimated attendance of 2,000. Below are my key takeaways.

The Youth Movement Has Arrived

Youth MOVE arrivesThere was a great youth track at the conference – and more often than not you could hear fellow attendees in the hallways saying that these sessions were better than any others they had attended.

Youth MOVE Rockstar AwardsBoth Youth M.O.V.E. National and local Youth M.O.V.E. chapters were well represented, along with many other youth organizations from around the country.  On Thursday night the 2014 recipients of the Youth MOVE Rockstar Awards were announced. The recipients were:

  • Niketa Currie, Youth M.O.V.E. North Carolina was named the 2014 Tricialouise Gurley-Millard Youth Advocate
  • Dr. JoAnne Malloy,  Institute On Disabilties was named the 2014 Dr. Gary M. Blau Professional of the Year
  • The Kentucky Partnership for Families and Children was named the 2014 Youth Guided Organizational Rockstar
  • Bruce Brumfield, Center for Community Alternatives was named the 2014 Marlene Matarese Advocate for Youth was named the 2014
  • Youth M.O.V.E. Miami was named the 2014 National Chapter
  • Gregory Foster was given the first ever Honorary Rockstar award for his continued dedication to youth and young adults who struggle with poverty and behavioral health needs.

And a special shout out to Youth M.O.V.E. Saginaw for contributing the soundtrack.


The Power of Storytelling
Homeboy Industries at Georgetown InstitutesStorytelling is critical for organizations dealing with complex issues. The Power of Story Telling: Digital Voices in a Digital Age was a special presentation on the first day of the conference. This session showcased first person narrative video stories by youth from Washington state’s Youth N Action.  

Report Finds Family Visits Improve Behavior and School Performance of Incarcerated Teens

A report from the Vera Institute of Justice, Ohio Department of Youth Services and the Public Welfare Foundation underscores the importance of family involvement for incarcerated youth. The Families as Partners: Supporting Youth Reentry Project’s findings reveal the positive correlation between family visitation and behavior and school performance, and suggest juvenile correctional facilities should change their visitation policies to promote more frequent visitation with families.
In the study, teens who were never visited earned the lowest GPA scores and had three times as many behavior incidents as those who saw their families at least once a week. Conversely, youth who had regular family visits experienced the lowest levels of behavioral incidents and earned the highest GPAs.
Here are some highlights from the report:

  • Youth who were visited regularly committed an average of four behavioral incidents per month, compared to six among those visited infrequently and 14 among those who were never visited.
  • Youth who had never received a visit exhibited the highest rates of behavioral incidents.
  • Average GPAs for youth who never had a visitor was 80.4, compared to 82 for those who had visits infrequently and 85 for youth who had frequent visits.

Find the full report from the Families as Partners: Supporting Youth Reentry Project.

How to Help Teens in Detention During the Holidays

Editor's Note: This post was originally published in 2010, but we thought you might find it useful.juvenile-justice-system_scraggly-tree-with-one-christmas-bulb-institutional-setting
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. 
Don't know what to do?  Then check out this excellent Holiday Toolkit from the Campaign for Youth Justice. (Be patient - I find the PDF can take a while to load.) It can help you plan:

  • 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!

Major Gains for Family Engagement in Indiana’s Juvenile Justice System

Last year, the Vera Institute of Justice’s Family Justice Program wrapped up a multi-year project to develop and pilot family engagement standards for the Performance-based Standards Learning Institute. All juvenile corrections facilities participating in PbS are now collecting information related to family engagement—including a survey of family members twice a year. There are currently 48 facilities across 15 states collecting family surveys with a total of 1,033 family surveys collected since the start of the project.
One of the original pilot states is already benefiting from having data on family engagement after implementing the new standards last fall. Based on feedback from their PbS reports, Indiana’s Pendleton Juvenile Correctional facility decided to increase their rates of visitation. They analyzed their visitation policies and made drastic changes—opening up visitation hours to just about any time a family member can get to the facility. In addition to the expanded visiting hours, all restrictions on the number of visits a young person could receive were lifted.
These changes went into effect at the beginning of this year and, after just a few short months, the staff are seeing big changes. Not only did they successfully double their normal rate of visitation, they saw improved behavior by young people in the facility. The Family Justice Program found a similar correlation between improved behavior and visits in Ohio.

Family Visitation is More than Just a Nice Perk

After years of research, Vera’s Family Justice Program has implemented new programs which will contribute to easier access for family members seeking out their incarcerated loved ones. Considering youth school performance and behavior are both directly affected by family visitation, the Ohio Department of Youth Services (DYS) partnered with the Vera’s Family Justice Program on the Families as Partners project to promote support from the family members of incarcerated juveniles.
Through research gathered February 2010 through March 2013, the Families as Partners project discovered incarcerated adults and juveniles with a strong tie to loved ones progress better in prison and pose less of a threat once they are released. This family relationship and contact is described as critical to the accomplishments of youth in juvenile justice facilities.
Despite the lasting benefits family visitation has on incarcerated juveniles and the community, families often face obstacles when visiting their loved ones. Thus, the research gathered sought to support staff-to-family encouragement on emotional and material support, scheduled visits and overall involvement in treatment and reentry plans.

Parenting is Prevention

A youth’s perception of risks associated with substance use is an important determinant of whether he or she engages in substance use.
A recent SAMHSA National Survey on Drug Use and Health surfaced several important perceptions among adolescents aged 12 to 17. Binge drinking can be categorized as having five or more alcoholic drinks once or twice a week. The good news is that the percentage of adolescents who perceived great risk from binge alcohol use has increased from 38.2 percent in 2002 to 40.7 percent in 2011; during the same period, the actual rate of binge alcohol use among adolescents decreased from 10.7 to 7.4 percent.
The bad news: between 2007 and 2011, the percentage of adolescents who perceived great risk from smoking marijuana once or twice a week decreased from 54.6 to 44.8 percent, and the rate of past month marijuana use among adolescents increased from 6.7 to 7.9 percent.
Parents and other caring adults who provide adolescents with credible, accurate, and age-appropriate information about harm associated with substance use are an important component of prevention programming. The importance of strong, effective parenting throughout the adolescence, teenage, and young adult years has long been known to be central to helping prevent adolescents from engaging in substance use. However, it is less known but equally true that parental influence can continue to help affect their children’s behavioral environment when they become young adults. Many parents feel that when a child turns 18 that their work is done—that the young person has to make his or her own choices. We often see this with parents whose children go off to college. Yet, many of these students are making poor decisions.

Promising Outcomes for a Parenting Sentencing Alternative

Washington State's Parenting Sentencing Alternative provides qualifying offenders with the opportunity to parent their minor children under intense community supervision instead of serving prison time. Although it is too soon to gauge the program's long-term success, the Department of Corrections is seeing a number of early benefits, including cost savings, with Community Parenting Alternative (CPA) and Family and Offender Sentencing Alternative (FOSA) cases.
On average, it costs $34,000 to supervise these alternative cases—between $7,000-$8,000 more than traditional community supervision. Officers have smaller caseloads but are more directly involved with day-to-day activities of offenders and their children, partners, and other family members. Although the program requires a higher initial cost per offender than traditional supervision and expends more resources up front, cost savings come in the reduction of daily population rates and duplicate service reduction. It costs an average of $90 a day to incarcerate; in contrast, it costs $7 a day to electronically monitor those who are on the prison-based alternative. While other supervision expenses exist, this reduction in costs upon transfer from prison provides substantial savings.

Missouri Employs Families to Combat Delinquency

The juvenile justice system, in a sense, functions to replace a core family function: discipline of a child. While this is an important governmental role in some cases, it is necessary to ensure that families are not unnecessarily displaced, and in fact included in juvenile justice to the highest degree possible.
This is why family based juvenile justice programs often are very successful. Such programs return parents to their natural role of disciplinarian, and ensure that parents and youths are able to move forward with as little state involvement as possible.
Jackson County, Missouri, has adopted this precept with their Family Court program. The Family Court uses Parenting with Love and Limits theories, which seek to arm parents with the tools they need to discipline and control youths at home, and avoid placement in a secure facility.

The Family's Role in Addiction Recovery

*Editor's note: Please note that Reclaiming Futures does not endorse New Beginnings Recovery Center.
As young people suffer from addiction, their families suffer too. Just watching the decline of people they love and feeling helpless to stop it is bad enough, but they probably also feel angry, hurt, and frustrated with the addict. There are a number of things family members can do to help in a child’s recovery as well as steps they can take for themselves.
The very first thing to be done is to have a talk with the child. This needs to be done when he or she is not under the influence of drugs and it needs to be presented as supportive. A child who feels under attack will withdraw and nothing will be accomplished. When the child denies the use of drugs and parents still suspect they are an issue, the parents need to press forward and seek help.
Choosing treatment options

New Report Examines Needs of Justice-Involved Girls, Parents and Staff

“Girls get judged too much—it’s OK for guys to get into trouble because they’re guys, but not for girls; this is not fair.”
“The system didn’t realize that the whole family was scared and didn’t understand what was happening.”
“There are not enough adequately trained people to effectively deal with child abuse and neglect issues. As a society, we don’t do a good job of treating these issues; we don’t do a good job of treating the whole being.”
This small sampling of comments represents what justice system-involved girls, their parents, and staff, respectively, shared during listening sessions held nationwide by the National Girls Institute (NGI). The purpose of the listening sessions was to assess the current training, technical assistance, and informational needs of state, tribal, and local entities serving girls who are justice-involved or at risk of involvement as well as their families.
A report detailing the results and implications of the listening sessions, “Voices From the Field: Findings From the NGI Listening Sessions,” was recently released by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency (NCCD) through a cooperative agreement with the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP). An executive summary of the report is also available.
The Numbers

Report: Frequent Family Dinners Make a Big Difference in Teens’ Substance Use

A new white paper from CASAColumbia reports that family dinners make a big difference in teens’ use of illegal substances. The Importance of Family Dinners VIII found that teens who have frequent family dinners (five to seven per week) are more likely to report excellent relationships with their parents and therefore are less likely to use marijuana, alcohol or tobacco than teens who have infrequent family dinners (two or less per week).
CASAColumbia surveyed teenagers 12 to 17 years old in order to arm parents with the information they need to help their children develop life skills and choose a substance free lifestyle. The findings presented are from The National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse XVII: Teens.
In 2012, 57 percent of teens reported having family dinners at least five times a week. The results show frequent family dinners increased the amount of parental knowledge about their kids’ lives. On average, teens with frequent family dinners were three times less likely to use drugs, drink or smoke compared to teens that have infrequent family dinners.

Judging Children as Children: Partnering with Families for Our Children's Future

A resident of East Harlem used to be somewhat of a problem child. He was always running around and banging on cans and tapping on walls. His mother felt helpless. Finally, one of her neighbors suggested that she send her child to "drum school." She followed this advice. And the child grew up to become Tito Puente, the King of Latin Music.
There is a valuable lesson in this little story.
It is often the family and community that know best how to provide support and solutions for our "problem children." New York's Penal Law and related statutes, however, often undermine or fail to recognize the power of families to be effective, if not indispensable, partners in the solution.
New York is one of only two states in the nation (North Carolina is the other) that sets the age of criminal responsibility as low as 16. New York also tries children as young as 13 as adults when they are accused of the most serious crimes.

Families Unlocking Futures: Solutions to the Crisis in Juvenile Justice

In 2001, my 13 year old son, Corey, was sent to what the New York Times called, “the worst juvenile prison in the country.” What crime had he committed that earned him this hellish journey? He stole a $300 stereo out of a pick-up after he smashed out the window with a crowbar. His sentence was 5 years in the one of the most brutal facilities in the U.S.
The families of children who are system involved are often thought of as “lazy,” “uneducated,” “uncaring” and worse. But a new report by Justice for Families (J4F) gives us a much different picture of families and relies on substantial data rather than outdated myths and stereotypes. I was given a second chance to make different decisions for my youngest daughter, nearly seven years later. Today, that daughter is in her second semester of college, having earned a 3.7 GPA in her first semester and has never again been involved in the system. Sadly, for my son that second chance never came. Today, he is living on taxpayer money, serving a 12 year sentence in a state prison.
In 20 sites across eight states, Justice for Families, the Data Center and our local partners led by families of kids involved in the system, conducted two dozen focus groups and took exhaustive surveys from more than 1,000 families who were involved in the juvenile justice system. We conducted a media review that looked at hundreds of articles discussing families and juvenile justice. Lastly, we conducted an extensive literature review of promising approaches led by systems and community based organizations. Families designed the focus group and survey questions and collected and analyzed the data, proving that families are capable, they do care and they do, indeed, want to be involved.

The Role of the Parent during Juvenile Interrogation

I am currently in the process of preparing this year’s syllabus for the companion course that I teach with the Juvenile Justice Clinic entitled, “The Criminal Lawyering Process.” It is designed to introduce clinic students to North Carolina juvenile court practice and procedure as well as to the issues commonly confronted by juvenile defenders.
One of the most difficult concepts for students (and many lawyers) to grasp is that of the role of the juvenile defender, as we are bound to represent what the client herself articulates as her goals and preferences, rather than being guided by our own view of what is in the youth’s “best interests.” A related concept that students often find challenging is the limited role of the child’s parents during the course of representation; it is the client and not her parents who ultimately makes the critical decisions in the case, including whether to admit or have an adjudicatory hearing and whether or not to testify. Parents of juveniles sometimes balk at this ethical rule, as they are accustomed to serving as the ultimate decision-maker for their son or daughter in nearly every other setting.

It Takes a Village -- Or a Friend's Parents

Editor's Note: This piece exemplifies the impact a young person's friend's parents can play in her/his life.
My oldest friend emailed this past week with a blow to the heart: Joann McArthur had died, of cancer, on her 70th birthday.
It is hard to describe why this news hit so hard. Joann was not exactly my friend, though few people in life have been friendlier. She was not a relative, though sometimes she felt like one. She held a role that, in some ways, was more important than those.
She was my friend’s mother.
There’s no doubt that parents—at least for people like me who are lucky enough to have terrific ones—are the biggest and most positive influences in life. And there’s truth in the cliché that “it takes a village” to raise a child. But in the space between your village and your home, the parents of close friends can be the most valuable of guides and intermediaries.
The power of the relationship between kids and their friends’ parents relies on both proximity and distance. You see a lot of your friends’ parents, particularly if you hang out at their house. But neither side of the relationship chooses the other. You don’t pick your friends’ parents, and your friend’s parents don’t pick you. (True, some parents try to choose their children’s friends, but it usually backfires.)