Blog: Family Involvement

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.

Scrapbooking Connects Troubled Teens With Family

A group of volunteers is helping young people improve communication skills and build better family relationships in Juvenile Court in Kenton, Ohio. We are mentors, recruited by Reclaiming Futures Hardin County.
For the past year, scrapbooking workshops have provided a conversation-starter for the families of our court-involved young people. On Thursday evenings, mothers and children gather and assemble "Life Books" that help them tell their personal stories. Families open up and get to know one another better. The results have been amazing!


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.

New Leadership in Kentucky's Department of Juvenile Justice

Vera’s Family Justice Program sat down with Hasan Davis, acting commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), to discuss the influence of family in his life and his work.
Vera: How has your family helped you get to where you are today?

Davis: Growing up as a black male with dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and a hearing and vision impairment, I realized life for me would be a constant series of challenges to overcome or it would be nothing at all. My parents divorced when I was six. and we went on and off of food stamps. I attended six elementary schools and can remember 10 different permanent and temporary living addresses before I began high school.
When I was 11, I got arrested, and I remember waiting at the police station for my mom. As I saw the other mothers arrive, I could see the fear, frustration, and embarrassment that comes with having a child get caught up in this system, which came out as anger and threats. “I had to leave work to come here. I am going to let them keep you next time. I have three more kids to raise.” So as I waited for my mother, I was getting my speech ready. It was going to start with something like, “I’m a black man, and I am going to do what I have to do to survive, so you need to just back up off me.” When she showed up, she was really calm. I figured she didn’t want to show herself in front of the police, and I thought she’s going to lose it when we get in the car, but instead there was deafening silence. Halfway home I finally found the courage to look up at her, and she was crying these huge tears. She looked down at me and said, “Baby, if you could see what I see every time I look at you, you would know how great you are.”

In Texas, Parents are Partners in Juvenile Justice

In a recent survey of youth at a Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD) facility, the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition heard from youth that staying connected to their families is more difficult at state facilities as compared to county detention centers, and that they would like more contact with their families. In my role as the TJJD family liaison coordinator, I have been working on several ways to establish and enhance family partnerships.
In 2007, parents, youth, advocacy groups and agency staff worked together to create the Parents’ Bill of Rights, which establishes that “parents are partners with correctional staff, educators, and treatment providers in their child’s rehabilitation and are encouraged and assisted to actively participate in the design and implementation of their child’s treatment, from intake to discharge.”
With the Bills of Rights as its guide, TJJD offers a number of opportunities for families to learn about the agency, participate in youth’s treatment, and spend time together:

  • Parents are invited to participate in person or by phone in monthly meetings to discuss the youth’s progress in education, behavior, and treatment.
  • Monthly Family Orientation sessions help families learn how to navigate the system.
  • Family Seminars keep families informed about agency changes.
  • Open houses allow families to meet staff and tour the school, dorms, and other buildings.
  • Facilities have flexible visiting times and frequent phone calls.
  • Quarterly family days encourage families to participate in activities including cook-outs, board games, photo sessions, and celebratory dinners.

New York Approves Close-to-Home Care for Teen Offenders

Late Tuesday night, the New York Senate, Assembly and Governor agreed on the 2012-13 budget, which includes an innovative new juvenile justice program.
The “Close to Home” initiative, which would allow New York City to place low and mid-level juvenile delinquents in treatment programs in or near New York City, rather than in facilities hundreds of miles away in upstate New York, was included in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s original budget proposal. The Senate and Assembly, however, first had to approve the measure and pass budgets that included it.
Beginning in September of 2012, youth otherwise placed in non-secure facilities will now be placed in New York City-administered programs and facilities. Youth from limited-secure facilities will be placed in City programs beginning in April of 2013.
These categories of youth in New York are usually tried for misdemeanors or non-violent felonies. When they are sent to facilities far upstate, they are often placed a great distance from their families and communities. This distance from support networks correlates with dismal outcomes—youth recidivism among offenders released from state facilities is over 80 percent after three years. Furthermore, the cost exceeds $250,000 per year, giving taxpayers little return on a high investment.

Study Finds Juvenile Offenders Cope Better with Families Closer to Detention Facilities

A recent study about Texas juveniles in a state detention center showed the youths responded better when they were closer to their families.
The survey, conducted by the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, a nonpartisan nonprofit group, studied 115 juveniles at the Giddings State School in Austin, which is the facility for Bell County juveniles convicted of violent crimes.
"The closer they are to home, the more likely you'll get some familial participation and that is a positive," said Judge Ed Johnson.
Johnson has been the designated juvenile court judge for the past 26 years in Bell County. His court, county court one, also oversees juveniles in Lampasas County.
About one-fourth of the funding for local juvenile justice comes from state grants, said Johnson, noting that the juvenile probation program gets its entire budget from the state.
In 2011, more than 1,000 cases were referred to the local juvenile probation program. Of that number, more than 730 were for delinquent conduct and crimes ranging from class-B misdemeanors to felonies. The others were for conduct indicating a need for supervision, such as runaways or truancy.

What Realignment of CA's Juvenile System Could Mean for Families

Last month, California's Legislative Analyst's Office (LAO), joined the growing momentum for Governor Brown's juvenile realignment proposal with a report explaining the potential financial incentives. While advocates and pollicy groups continue to call for realignment and the de-incarceration of the juvenile system, it's important to take a step back and hear from the families with children in the system. 

In an interview with Turnstyle News, Sumayyah Waheed, director of the Ella Baker Center's Books Not Bars campaign, explains why the current system is making it difficult for families to stay connected with their kids, which in turn makes it more difficult for the kids to rehabilitate:

New Siblings Brain Study Sheds Light on Addiction

A new study published this week in Science, suggests that addicts have inherited abnormalities in some parts of the brain, which interfere with impulse control.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge examined 50 pairs of biological siblings (in which one sibling was addicted to cocaine or amphetamines and the other was not) against a control group of 50 healthy, drug free and non-related volunteers. First they tested the self-control levels and then performed brain scans. What they found could have big implications for the prevention and treatment of substance abuse and addiction. 
From Science:

Much to the researchers' surprise, the siblings who didn't use drugs performed as poorly on the test as the ones who did. All of the sibling pairs did worse than the healthy controls, the team reports in the 3 February issue of Science.
Brain scans also showed that both members of the sibling pairs had abnormal interconnections between parts of the brain that exert control and those involved with drive and reward. Some individual brain structures were abnormal as well; the putamen, which plays a key role in habit formation, was larger in the siblings than in control subjects, as was the medial temporal lobe, which is involved in learning and memory. Because these anomalies appeared in the siblings but not in the unrelated controls, Ersche believes the finding provides a measurable, biological basis for vulnerability to addiction.

Keeping Locked-Up Kids and their Families Connected

Arizona’s Legislature recently passed a law charging prison visitors a onetime $25 fee as a way to help close the state’s $1.6 billion budget deficit. Middle Ground Prison Reform, a prison advocacy group, challenged the law in court as a discriminatory tax, but a county judge upheld its constitutionality.
Fees like that, slapped on prisoners and their families, couldn’t be more counterintuitive. But then again, so many of our criminal justice policies are just that. Since it is mostly the poor, the desperately poor who fill U.S. prisons, the $25 fee is one more economic hardship offenders’ families have to struggle with. It becomes another bill they have to scramble to pay — that is if they can.
These kinds of charges (and Arizona isn’t the only jurisdiction trying to shift the cost of incarceration to the poor) have even graver consequences. When a family can’t pay the fee, their contact with their loved one is limited, essentially cutting an offender off from the only supports he or she has in the outside world.
Psychologists have long known how central it is for an individual to have nurturing people in his or her life in order to develop emotionally, psychologically and socially. This need for a supportive network is even more essential when we talk about the young people who are locked away from family and loved ones in our nation’s prisons and detention centers.
As anyone who has worked with kids in the penal system knows on a gut level, it is crucial to have families and other supportive community members involved in young offenders’ lives as they serve their time. Now, that commonsense intuition has been given empirical strength by studies done by such juvenile justice groups as the Vera Institute of Justice which have demonstrated that maintaining young people’s connection to families is a major factor in helping kids stay out of jail once they are released.
But it’s easy to question whether these families are really such a positive influence. After all, if they were doing such a great job what are their kids doing in jail?

New Teen Substance Abuse PSAs Focus on Parents

The Partnership at recently teamed up with Energy BBDO to release a new set of PSAs warning about the harmful effects of drug and alcohol abuse by adolescents. Unlike previous campaigns, these videos focus specifically on parents' behavior and call on parents to intervene instead of enabling their child's destructive behaviors.


2011's top 20 stories on juvenile justice and adolescent substance abuse, part 1

2011 was quite a year for Reclaiming Futures Every Day. To help jog your memory of all of our great and on-going discussions, I've compiled a list of the top 20 most popular blog posts from the past year. Some of these posts were published in previous years, but continued to be read and discussed and are still relevant today. 
I'm starting off with the first five, in order of reverse popularity:

#20. Juvenile Justice System: How much are evidence-based practices worth?
Program evaluator Linda Wagner used data analysis to explain why investing in evidence-based practices is the best way to achieve significant cuts in crime and their associated costs.
#19. Juvenile Justice reform: Tell the right story & keep going!
This blog's founder, Benjamin Chambers, said farewell and called on readers to continue their important discussions and work in the juvenile justice arena.
#18. Speaking in a loud voice: A juvenile probation officer makes documentary about sex trafficking
We interviewed an Oregon juvenile probation officer about "Your American Teen," his documentary that looks at sex trafficking and American teens.
#17. Dr. Jeffrey Butts on positive youth development in juvenile justice (video interview)
Dr. Jeffrey Butts explained the meaning of "positive youth development" and how it can help youth in the juvenile justice system.
#16. How to raise a drug-free kid: The straight dope for parents
Joseph A. Califano, Jr. explained the importance of speaking with kids about drugs while they are still young and emphasized the role of parents in prevention.

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.