Blog: Family Involvement

Juvenile Justice System - Tips for Family Involvement from Pennsylvania

juvenile-justice-reform_family-involvement-publicationMost professionals in the juvenile justice system believe that engaging families at all levels -- from individual cases to advocacy on state and federal policy -- is critical. And research evidence appears to back this up. But in my experience, we find it tough to act on on the research for a variety of reasons. 
I recommend reviewing "Family Involvement in Pennsylvania's Juvenile Justice System," a 2009 document from MacArthur's Models for Change initiative.
While focused on Pennsylvania (obviously), its conclusions are universal. In sixteen focus groups, investigators gleaned useful, concrete ideas focused on four themes:

Moms Want Justice: Meaningful Family Partnerships in Juvenile Justice Reform

juvenile-justice-reform_family-partnership-guide-coverWant to partner with families on juvenile justice reform?
Been there, done that, but still struggling?
Do yourself a favor and check out "An Advocate's Guide to Meaningful Family Partnerships: Tips from the Field," from the National Juvenile Justice Network. 
Based on interviews with 26 advocacy organizations and in-depth interviews with eight juvenile justice advocacy groups (both family-led and non-family-led), the guide is a great primer / refresher on what works when partnering with families.
You'll find reminders about leveling the playing field so that professional advocates and family advocates can both contribute; the need to be frank about and work to address underrepresentation of people of color on the staff of advocacy organizations; and ways to help advocates celebrate their wins even when the legislative process falls short of their ultimate goals.
What's one of the biggest barriers to recruiting family members as advocates for juvenile justice reform? Often, they begin their journey as advocates because they care intensely about their own child, sibling, or relation; they're less interested in fighting for changes to the system on behalf of other people's children.
Here, the NJJN guide once again provides useful tips. None of the solutions are likely to surprise you, but they're often overlooked in my experience, especially when it comes to juvenile justice agencies seeking to give families voice.  
In addition, you'll also find capsule examples of organizations that have achieved success with recruiting family members, building their expertise, and benefiting from the ability of family advocates to push reform from outside the system: 

Effective Practice in Juvenile Justice - and More: Roundup

Teens in Lockup - a Documentary and a Photo Project about Juveniles in the Justice System

  • juvenile-justice-reform_screenshot-from-JuviesClick on the screen shot at right to check out four short clips from "Juvies," an award-winning documentary from 2004 focusing on youth in California's juvenile justice system who were tried as adults and received extremely harsh sentences (photo at right is of "Sandra). You might also be interested in the "syllabus" assembled by the filmmakers in response to frequent requests for additional classroom resources to supplement the film. 


Webinar for Family Members Impacted by Substance Use & Co-Occurring Disorders

adolescent-substance-abuse-treatment_woman-speakingHere's a free, one-hour webinar from National Family Dialogue (launched last year by SAMHSA's Center for Substance Abuse Treatment) called "Our Stories Have Power," for family members who have been impacted by substance use and/or co-occurring mental health issues. It will be held May 26, 2010, at 2pm PST / 5pm EST. 
Family members can learn how to use their stories to educate the public and policy makers about the need for effective addiction treatment and recovery supports. They can also learn strategies for using their stories to build relationships and partnerships.

Juvenile Justice Reform: Helping Families in Crisis

juvenile-justice-reform_doorwayI don't get to talk to families on their best days.  Rather, I mostly talk to people when they are in the midst of crisis - a crisis having arisen because their child has been arrested or is somewhere on the short road to being tried, sentenced, or incarcerated as an adult even though they are still a child.  I feel inadequate and find myself lacking answers. I feel scared for them knowing that they are powerless and the full range of consequences of these practices will not reach them until years down the road.  Truly, it is the families and the children that will carry years of devastating burdens far longer than I.  

As an organizer, I want to see the reform that will end these harmful practices, but as a family organizer, I want to provide answers to folks who have a right to understand every aspect of what is happening to their children in these circumstances.  I keep wondering whose job it is to give families the information they need during this difficult time.

Many families seek legal advice from the attorneys that represent their children.  Providing this advice, however, can be difficult for the attorneys because they represent the child, not the family.  While families can and should take an active role in the defense of their child and communicate relevant information to the attorney, such as if the child has been in trouble before or was a good student, this still ultimately means that the care and concern of the child falls back to the family.  Yet, the family often lacks the information necessary to help make decisions in the best interest of their child.  How are families to make decisions without adequate information?  

Webinar: Adolescent Recovery Networks

Want to Help Teens in the Justice System Recover from Addiction?

Join William White of Chestnut Health Systems Lighthouse Institute for a free webinar sponsored by Reclaiming Futures on "Adolescent Recovery Networks." Mr. White will present on recovery movements and recovery network models, and discuss ways that adolescent substance abuse treatment systems can develop strong recovery systems.
To participate, log on Wednesday, May 19, 2010 at 10:30 am PST / 1:30 pm EST. (Follow the link above to register.) PLEASE NOTE: The presentation will run 90 minutes, and up to an hour will be provided for questions, so make sure you block out enough time!

UPDATE: You can listen to a recording of "Adolescent Recovery Networks" or download the presentation slides here.
RELATED Post: Be sure to check out our handy reference list of evidence-based models for treating adolescent substance abuse.

Self-Preservation for Parents and Caregivers of Teens in Juvenile Court

juvenile-justice-system-self-care_treeWhen children you love and care for end up involved with the juvenile justice system, their journey could lead to months or years that slowly extract mental and physical energy from you. That’s why it’s paramount that you surround yourself with natural supports and a safe haven.
As parents and caregivers, our natural instinct is to nurture. An inexperienced child – perhaps even our own flesh and blood -- tugs at our hearts. Regardless of the title you hold, or how the child is related to you, you will need to carve out quality time for yourself. I’m sure some of you will laugh at the absurdity of this idea, but in the long run, our young people’s self-made problems from their past can and will come back to haunt our present.

Families are Key to Juvenile Justice Reform

Drug use among youth is a serious concern that cannot be solved by punishment. So it’s great to see the juvenile justice field increasingly considering and involving families. For example, the New York Governor’s Task Force on Transforming Juvenile Justice recently published a report that is replete with recommendations underscoring the importance of family. The report, developed with support from my colleagues at Vera’s Center on Youth Justice, reminded me of a comment by Derek Hitchcock of the Michigan Bureau of Juvenile Justice, who said, “We so often institutionalize our kids; any way to get them linking back to the outside is great.”
Vera’s Family Justice Program shares this goal, which helps drive our work with juvenile justice agencies, guiding them as they integrate family-focused, strength-based tools and methods that benefit incarcerated youth.
Sometimes, facility staff resist the idea of working with families, but it usually doesn’t take long before we’re discussing the benefits. I often just have to ask, “Who is the first person to know when a young person has relapsed?” or “When kids succeed, who celebrates with them?” Even if every family member does not provide support to a young person, identifying those individuals who do is important to the youth’s recovery and well-being.

Families in Power: a Guide to Organizing on Juvenile Justice Reform

[The following column appeared in the February 2010 Campaign for Youth Justice e-newsletter, and is reprinted with permission. It has been edited slightly to incorporate hyperlinks into the text. - Ed.]
juvenile-justice-reform-family-organizing_CFYJ-GuideThe Campaign for Youth Justice recently released a guide for families who want to do something to change the foolish and ineffective practice of trying our children as adults. Our new guide is entitled, "Families in Power: Family Guide to Networking, Coalition Building, Organizing and Campaign Building."  The guide provides basic information about how families and allies can begin to organize themselves and others to change  transfer practices and other overly punitive policies that negatively affect our children and our communities. 

Here is one highlight from this new guide:

The first step in creating powerful families and organizing others is developing a way to talk about your issue with a wide variety of audiences.  Many organizers refer to this as your "rap."  Your rap about the transfer of children into the adult correctional and court systems should be your 30-second commercial that is designed to open up dialogue with others.  It should include: a fact or two about youth transfer in order to educate people who may not know about transfer laws, why this is issue is important to you, and what you need from the person you are talking to.  Be sure you have your facts down and that they are accurate.  There are several fact sheets on the Campaign's website that can help you easily identify important facts.  The best fact sheet to use summarizes the findings of CFYJ's Jailing Juveniles report and speaks to the danger children face in jails every day in this country.   

One Parent's Experience with the Juvenile Justice System

Thank you for this opportunity to share my story. My oldest son became involved in the juvenile justice system in April of 2009, and completed his six-month probation period in November 2009. It wasn’t the first public system he’d been involved in, but I think as a mother…it was the most heart-wrenching. Many a night I had sent prayers up for him, fearing one day he might become involved in the justice system. After all, when you got right down to it, I really had no control over my child’s actions or his decision-making in my absence.
His involvement caused a myriad of emotions within me and with the addition of another system seemingly holding the entire family hostage. I wanted to distance myself, teach him a lesson, give him tough love, send him to detention -- anything but bring him home. Overwhelmed with a pending divorce and the custody issues of a younger sibling, I didn’t need an additional challenge with yet another system.

Juvenile Justice Reform - Family Leadership Institute

juvenile-justice-reform_CFYJ-logoWow. Earlier this week, I blogged about a great opportunity to help youth, family members, and leaders of color become more effective juvenile justice advocates.
Now, here's another chance to do the same thing, organized by our friends at the Campaign for Youth Justice. They'll be holding a Leadership Institute for Families in Baltimore, Maryland in May 25-27, 2010. The application is attached.
Here's what they say about it (with a few edits from me):

A Leadership Institute for Juvenile Justice Advocates

juvenile-justice-reform-leadership-institute_NJJN-logo[UPDATE: According to the NJJN, the Institute must be postponed until 2011. If you want to participate -- or be involved in the planning -- email Annie Balck. - Ed.] 
Anyone who has worked in the juvenile justice knows how hard it is to recruit, organize, and train advocates from the community to implement juvenile justice reform. But we also know they're out there. 
Fortunately, the National Juvenile Justice Network (NJJN) is here to help.
This summer, the NJJN is offering its first ever Juvenile Justice Leadership Development Institute. They want to

create the foundation for a more effective juvenile justice reform movement by developing a strong base of well prepared and well trained advocates and organizers who reflect the communities most affected by juvenile justice system practices and policies, with a particular focus on cultivating and supporting leaders of color, youth and family members.

The Institute will be held in New Orleans July 11-16, and will include a year of distance learning and being mentored.  Applications are due March 12, 2010. NJJN will pay transportation to and from New Orleans for those who get accepted to the program.

Juvenile Justice Reform: National Parent Caucus Call Schedule for 2010

juvenile-justice-reform-CFYJ-national-parent-caucus-telephoneLast summer, the Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ) launched its National Parent Caucus to build leaders among those most affected by the juvenile justice system. Every month, it holds conference calls with parents and caregivers. They've reached over 100 families from all over the country.
Next spring, CFYJ will host a three-day gathering in Baltimore of emerging family leaders from the National Parent Caucus to share experiences and skill. (I'll keep you posted as I learn more.)
Can't wait that long? Then dial in to the Caucus' next conference call at 1.866.670.5105 and enter the code 448194#. Or pass the number on to a parent of a child in the justice system. All calls take place at 1 pm PST/ 4 pm EST.
Here's the 2010 conference call schedule:

Juvenile Justice Reform: Fixing the Information Mismatch

[This topic of this column is so critical to reform of the juvenile justice system, we've reprinted it in its entirety from the Criminal Justice blog of with their kind permission. It originally appeared under the title, "Fixing the Information Mismatch in Juvenile Justice." --Ed.]
In 2007. I met a soft-spoken young man whom we will call “Ivan.” Almost everyday, he wore a large sweatshirt with cats and dogs on it. When I asked him if he liked animals, his face lit up and he told me that his dream was to become a veterinarian. He really loved taking care of animals, he said, and he was especially good with dogs. 
I knew Ivan because he was in the Bronx Family Court on a delinquency proceeding for allegedly throwing water on his teacher’s laptop at school. Ivan said it was an accident, although his teacher didn’t think so.
While awaiting a finding in his case, Ivan was successfully attending Saturday community service events, he was going to his counseling appointments, and he was present at school when his probation officer checked on him. Unfortunately, Ivan’s mom didn’t quite have her act together, so Ivan would find himself breaking up fights between her and her boyfriend, or taking care of her when she was too high to do it herself. Eventually, the court recognized that Ivan’s mom was not in a position to mother him as required by law. Without other family members or friends to take him in, Ivan was put into a juvenile jail to await the finding in his case.

Four Things You Can Do for Juvenile Justice Reform

There are rumblings throughout the country about racism right now. People are wondering what the implications of racism are, if it still exists, how much it affects and to what extent. These are the kinds of discussions we should be having as a nation. They are long overdue and the results of such discussions would be a welcome change to the silence and the ability of this country to ignore what is plain and evident. Yet it seems they're slow to begin and could go on for decades before we see any real change.
Now there are some in this country that can afford to wait as the discussion begins; on the other hand, those that are most affected by and involved in the juvenile and criminal justice systems do not have the luxury of waiting. We must take action today, at every opportunity in the future, and be prepared to create opportunities on the days when there are none!
We're lucky in that we have the facts that are indisputable to serve as the starting point for this work. Our country has an addiction to incarceration and based on the staggering statistics of that addiction, it's one we can no longer afford. Secondly, the criminal and juvenile justice systems are inundated with the appalling history of racism in the US. The focus of our discussion should be, "What are we going to do about it?"
If we assume we can no longer wait for the leaders in our field and in our communities to spearhead the work, then the answers we seek lie within us. Are you waiting for change to come or are you willing to roll up your sleeves and push for the change? If you were waiting for the right time, I believe we are there.

Juvenile Justice Reform: National Parent Caucus Call is Today

juvenile-justice-reform-parent-caucus-CFYJ-telephoneKnow any kids in the juvenile justice system with parents who're interested in juvenile justice reform?
The Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ) is hosting its National Parent Caucus call today, October 2nd, at 2pm EST / 11 am PST. Interested parties should call 1.866.670.5105 and enter the code 448194#.
The call will focus on ways you can spend an hour or less helping to "get the Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Prevention Act (JJDPA) moved out of committee and passed." The call wlil also provide a "brief training on wealth and power and what this has to do with us and our work."
Apologies for the late notice on this - but this is a great opportunity to involve parents in juvenile justice reform. (Photo by seychelles88.)

Building Family Strengths by Connecting to Culture

family-engagement-Jaime-and-Joaquin-photosOne of the drawbacks of juvenile court systems is that they often struggle when it comes to connecting kids to their own cultural values. Yet helping the youth and their families do so can tranform families and support teens in living crime-free and drug-free lives.
The Reclaiming Futures site in Santa Cruz saw the need for a culturally-rooted family-strengthening program years ago and adopted an 8-12-week curriculum called Cara y Corazón (literally, "face and heart"), developed by Jerry Tello. After hearing about it for years, I finally had the privilege of seeing Jaime Molina, ASW, Project Director and Community Fellow for the Santa Cruz site, and Joaquin Barreto, MCHS, present the curriculum at the Building Family Strengths conference held in Portland in June. (In the photo above, Jaime is on the left; Joaquin on the right.)

How to Raise a Drug-Free Kid: The Straight Dope for Parents

adolescent-substance-abuse-how-to-raise-a-drug-free-kid-book-coverAt The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA), we’ve been working for years to identify practical, realistic ways to keep kids drug-free. Why? Because a child who reaches age 21 without smoking, using illicit drugs or abusing alcohol is virtually certain never to do so. In other words, sober children become sober adults. And we’ve found that the best chance kids have of reaching age 21 drug-free is engaged parents. Parents have the greatest impact on whether their children will smoke, drink or use drugs. 

Adolescent Substance Abuse: CTYF and What's Working for Young People in Recovery

adolescent-substance-abuse-recovery-CTYF-logoMy name's Greg Williams. I'm a young person who's been in long-term recovery since age 17 from alcohol and other drugs. Whenever I tell my story, I always say, “I was whoever I thought my friends wanted me to be.” Throughout my teenage years, my human need for belonging drove me to conform to peer groups around me.

Helping Teens in the Justice System: Tapping the Community

The juvenile justice field has been one of the last to accept a strength-based or asset-based community development approach to working with young people and to working with communities to reduce juvenile crime.
However, based on pioneering work on a strength-based bill of rights for juvenile offenders developed by Laura Nissen, Executive Director of Reclaiming Futures and many other asset-based practitioners, the idea of a community development approach to juvenile justice has been slowly taking hold.