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!

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.

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.

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.

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.)

Changing Lives, One Theater Performance At a Time

Reclaiming Futures Judge Bettina Borders has a terrific op-ed in the South Coast Today on the positive impact theater performances have had on troubled teens in Massachusetts. Thanks to the generosity of the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center, teens in the juvenile system are attending plays and sharing the experience with their families.
She writes:

For most of these youth and their families, this is an extraordinary experience. First, they are having a wonderful experience together, one that most of us take for granted. The probation officers who accompany these youth have watched while the demeanor of these kids transforms as the evening unfolds. They are indistinguishable from the rest of the audience; polite, engaged, attentive, well behaved, well dressed, inquisitive, mesmerized by the magical extravaganzas they are watching. They are out of their "comfort zone" and yet "belong" in this new environment. It is wonderful to hear about as the probation officers report back to the court.
But the transformation does not end there. The youth are asked to write about their experiences or discuss them in groups. Each youth is excited, energized and articulate when dissecting the play or gushing over the virtuosity of dancers or musicians. Many "thank yous" by letter and by mouth are sent by the youths. Another lesson learned. These are experiences we want for all of the youth in our community and Ms. Knowles and the Board of the Z must be commended for making them accessible to those teens least likely to find their way to the beautiful Z.

Is Your Teen Trying Drugs This Summer? News Roundup

Juvenile Justice Reform

  • Bradley County: Juvenile Court, Schools Join to Help Families (
    From campus courts to an elementary-level class at the county's Juvenile Justice Center, the goal is to keep kids from growing up and entering the adult justice system, officials said Tuesday.
  • Juveniles In Court: New Chief Judge Relies On 'Holistic' Nursing Approach (Hartford Courant)
    Appointed last month as Connecticut's chief administrative judge of juvenile matters, Wolven, whose five-year term will begin in September, said she sees the courts taking the same [holistic] approach when it comes to juvenile offenders.
  • Making an Impression in the Courtroom (
    The senior administrative support specialist in the Pima County Public Defender’s Office maintains a clothes closet for defendants. Inside are more than 60 pairs of men’s and women’s shoes and dozens of slacks, blouses, dress shirts, suit coats and ties. [Vicki Broom] goes to the jail every week to measure defendants heading for trial. If she’s lucky, she’ll be able to find enough outfits to mix and match for the entire trial.

Helping Teens with Incarcerated Parents lead Successful Lives

Editor's note: This story is part of a 10-part investigative series: Lessening the impact of incarceration in Oakland.
Eunique is a vibrant 18-year-old African-American student at Oakland’s Fremont High whose Dad was incarcerated when she was seven years old.
“I’ll be honest with you,” she said as her broad smile stopped in its tracks. “I didn’t get any help from anybody during all of the years that my Dad was in prison. No one ever asked me how I was doing.”

During the nine years that her Dad was away, Eunique said she felt like an outcast.
“I felt like I was all alone and different than all of the other kids and families,” she said. ”It was awful.”
Studies show stories like Eunique's are the norm.
Teens face unique challenges, according to "Children on the Outside: Voicing the Pain and Costs of Parental Incarceration," a Justice Strategies report published in 2011. Like other children of incarcerated parents, they often face separation from siblings, having to move from place to place and increased poverty. Teens have an increased risk of delinquent behavior and an increased likelihood of school failure along with a sense of stigma and shame that impacts on their sense of who they are in the world.

Families are the Frontline: Preventing, Treating and Recovering from Substance Use, Mental Disorders

Families can and do play an important role in preventing, treating and recovering from substance abuse. As part of the National Recovery Month's Road to Recovery video series, Ivette Torres (director for Consumer Affairs at the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment) speaks with doctors, advocates and treatment providers to find out just how families can support their struggling loved ones.

Panelists answer the following questions:

Live Facebook Chat: Amy Winehouse's Father on Substance Abuse

At 3 pm ET, Mitch Winehouse (father of late singer Amy Winehouse) is participating in a live Facebook Q&A chat on substance abuse and how it affected Amy's life. Hosted by the Partnership at, Mitch will answer questions and discuss his new book, Amy, My Daughter, the inside story of Amy Winehouse's life and career.
Amy Winehouse was a five time Grammy-winning English singer and songwriter. She was the first British female to win five Grammys, including "Best New Artist," "Record of the Year" and "Song of the Year." She struggled with substance abuse and ultimately died of alcohol poisoning in 2011 at the age of 27. 
From the Partnership at Drugfree's announcement:

Richard Buery: Community Engagement Vital for Juvenile Justice System

Over in The Atlantic Cities, Richard R. Buery Jr. of the Children's Aid Society has a very compelling piece about the importance of community-based rehabilitation centers in working with troubled youth.  
He explains:

Engaging the local community is vital to the rehabilitation process. For young offenders, receiving supportive services in their home communities, where they can remain connected to families and local institutions, offers the most reliable path for ensuring that they do not grow up to become lifelong criminals. For most children convicted of minor infractions, effective services can be provided while they live at home, avoiding the costs and negative impact of institutionalization. Yet for the past few decades we have failed troubled youth--the vast majority of them black and Latino (84 percent of all admissions in 2009) - by shipping them to juvenile detention facilities hundreds of miles away from home, often for minor infractions.
Cutting these children off from their communities threatens their often fragile family relationships. Worse, young people don't learn to become responsible adults at these facilities--on the contrary, they are often neglected and face abuse. And despite how ineffective and unsafe these facilities are, the city and state spend millions of dollars a year to keep them running. Compared to the alternative, the waste is astonishing. Holding a youth offender in a secure facility costs around $260,000 a year; alternative, community-based treatment programs can cost about $20,000 per child per year, and have better results.