Blog: Family Involvement

Advice for parents of troubled teens

I have a 15-year-old son who, in the past year, has gone from a quiet, well- mannered, well- liked child to a stranger to me. He hasn’t attended school in about two months. He comes and goes as he pleases, he will not respect the curfews I set for him and sometimes is gone for days on end. He has started smoking and he has admitted to smoking weed. He doesn’t listen to anyone and if we try and talk to him he just leaves. I don’t want to throw him out of the house but I just don’t know what to do. His behavior is taking its toll on me. — Noreen
Many parents are struggling with similar problems. So the first thing Noreen should know is that she shouldn’t feel alone.
Look in your neighborhood or church and notice all the parents who seem to have it all together. One of the very first things I would advise you to do is to seek counsel from some of those successful parents. I would also strongly encourage you to establish contact with your son’s school to request assistance in addressing his specific challenges. Our tax supported schools deal with these sorts of challenges every day and many have targeted resources at their disposal to counter these problems. You must ask for information on specific adolescence or male-oriented programs that have proven successful over the years. Then, you must then develop a relationship with the leaders of that program to give them a sense of urgency about your son. Do not be put off by their busy schedules. The old adage “the squeaky wheel gets the grease,” is very true when dealing with most large organizations. You must be diligent and persistent if you truly want to redirect the life of your son.
I would then encourage you to work on establishing lines of communication with your child. It is not unusual for adults to lose the ability to communicate with their children effectively. You must now identify what those barriers are and strategically remove them one at a time.
I would enlist the support of a valued male relative or friend who can oftentimes better identify with younger males because they have already transitioned into adulthood. They can better identify and anticipate what some of the experiences your son has/will encounter. Young men are often confused about where they fit in life and need actual role models to help them work through this sometimes very difficult period. You must partner with a dependable male who has good communication skills, who is willing to spend some-one-on-one time with your son. Many schools and organizations such as the Boys & Girls Clubs, scouting and athletic teams have very active and effective mentoring programs for young people. They do a thorough job of screening and training the adult mentors who work with their students.

3 ways to address teenage motivation to drink that don’t involve scare tactics

When someone – including a teenager – gets treatment for alcohol and substance abuse, it is standard practice to identify some of the reasons why they started using and the benefits they feel they get from these substances. This helps them reduce shame and best identify their triggers and areas to focus on. Among the research, most reasons for using alcohol fall into a few broad categories such as mood or personality enhancement, social reasons, and coping reasons. Reviewing personal motivations for using alcohol is often an “ah-ha” experience for the person seeking help but it needs to be handled with care as there is the potential in such a discussion to make alcohol use seem more appealing.
Nowhere is this concern greater than when attempting to prevent alcohol use in teens as many parents have a justified fear that such a discussion will promote alcohol use in kids who may not have otherwise been aware of the potential short-term “benefits” of alcohol. This fear has often caused parents and caregivers to avoid the topic, focus only on the consequences of drinking or minimize the reasons why people drink – especially with younger children. While reinforcing the consequences of underage drinking is always recommended, understanding teen’s motivations can also be useful to parents as a point for both prevention and early intervention of teenage drinking. Below are a few tips on using teen motivations to intervene and connect with your children.
A useful strategy is to ask teens about what they “expect” to get from drinking. Along with perceived risk, your teen’s alcohol use can be predicted by the expectation that one will feel a certain way when they drink. These expectations are reinforced by the media and by your teen’s peers. Expectations are essentially motivating (I want to relax and I will drink because I expect that it will help me relax). The first step is to identify what your teens think about drinking’s benefits or what drinking may give them. If you can identify the reasons they think people drink (or they drink), it is a point of intervention.
Tailor Your Strategy: Based on the motivations or expectations your teen mentions reports there are several options to continue the conversation.

Sheriff investigator makes a difference in kids’ lives and more -- news roundup

Juvenile Justice Reform

  • South Carolina County Sheriff investigator makes a difference in kids’ lives
    Richland County sheriff investigator Cassie Radford is working hard to get troubled kids the services they need and to keep them out of jail. The grant that funds Radford's position is in its third year and ends Sept. 30. Richland County prosecutors and judges hope Sheriff Leon Lott finds a way to keep Radford in her position.
  • Missouri juvenile office to use electronic monitoring
    The expense of sending Linn County’s juvenile offenders elsewhere, coupled with the strict criteria that must be met to detain a juvenile, has prompted the Linn County Juvenile Office to obtain electronic monitoring equipment. Without a juvenile detention center of its own, the Linn County Juvenile Office has been forced to pay the expense of transporting offenders as well as the cost for a bed in Kirksville’s Bruce Normile Juvenile Justice Center.
  • New goal for Illinois juvenile center: Clear it out
    Cook County’s Board President is advocating a new approach for the county’s juvenile justice system: empty the juvenile detention facility by putting children in group homes, monitored home confinement and other community-based programs where advocates say young people have better opportunities for counseling, job training and other life-skill instruction.
  • Kentucky launches pilot program to decrease juvenile detentions
    Henderson schools, law enforcement and court officials joined forces with the state to examine why so many teens were being incarcerated. They came up with a pilot program to combat the issue. It includes asking schools to deal with small offenses, instituting a mentor program and encouraging teachers and school officials to meet to review statistics on disciplinary action.
  • Washington, DC’s juvenile justice system sees real change
    As part of sweeping reforms, DC’s Oak Hill was closed in 2009 and replaced by a smaller and dramatically different facility named New Beginnings Youth Development Center. Youth Radio interviewed DC Lawyers for Youth executive director Daniel Okonkwo about Oak Hill’s impact on DC’s juvenile justice system.
  • Wisconsin critics: Stop treating 17-year-olds as adults
    Wisconsin is one of 13 states that automatically place 17-year-olds in the adult criminal justice system. In the past few years, almost one-third of states have passed laws to keep more young offenders in the juvenile justice system. Now officials and families are calling on the state to place 17-year-olds in juvenile facilities, mainly for their own safety.
  • Benton County’s juvenile center nearly finished
    Arkansas’ Benton County's Juvenile Justice Center is nearly complete, with part of the $6 million complex scheduled to open in January. The new facility is twice as large as the current one and will include classrooms and a courtroom in addition to holding cells.

Adolescent Substance Abuse Treatment

Helping 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!

When home for Thanksgiving is nothing more than a dream for a boy and his mom

I know a woman in Tennessee whose son was just sent to a youth detention center. He has had some problems with petty crime and drugs, and was sent to a treatment program for kids awhile back. He did not adapt very well to the program, and now he has been sent to this YDC for an indefinite period. He is 17 and the state can hold him until he is 21 if authorities decide he is not ready to be released.
She is trying to figure out how she can go see him for Thanksgiving. He is housed several hours away, and she doesn’t have a reliable vehicle to get her there. She is hoping the boy’s father, who lives in another town, will be willing to take her. Maybe he will.
This is her Thanksgiving.
There is something about the holiday season that makes these situations especially poignant for me. When I was on the inside, holidays weren’t so bad. Often the prisoners would come together and make meals, and guys would normally be a little nicer. We were all missing our families, and somehow that drew us together a little more than during the rest of the year. Somehow we were able to humanize one another a little more.
It’s only been since my release in December of 2009 that I have seen the other side of this story. For the families on the outside it is not a better time of year. When they gather around the table to eat a big meal and celebrate life there is a conspicuous absence. There is a gaping hole where their loved one should be.

Back to the Future: Engaging Families of Youth in the Justice System (VIDEO)

juvenile-justice-system_Emmitt-HayesI met Emmitt Hayes about 10 years ago, when I first learned about Reclaiming Futures. He had led Travis County, TX through a project funded inthe mid-1990s by the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT) -- a project that laid the groundwork for Reclaiming Futures. (Interestingly, Travis County, TX is one of our newest sites.)
In the decade since, he's continued to serve Reclaiming Futures as a valued advisor, sharing --  with humor and humility -- his uncompromising commitment to youth and famlies caught up in the juvenile justice system.
When I saw him at the Reclaiming Futures Leadership Institute in Miami in May 2011, I asked him to talk with me a little about what he saw as the most important next step in implementing Reclaming Futures. He reflected briefly on his thirty years of working with youth in the justice system and observed that family engagement was the key to success when he started, and it's still the key, despite years of focus on evidence-based practices in treatment.
But heck, I'll let him tell it. After all, he's a lot more inspiring than I:

Family-Focused Justice Reform and Incarcerated Juveniles

juvenile-justice-reform_Famliy-Focus-Reform-report[The following passage is an excerpt from a new publication from the Vera Institute of Justice, Setting an Agenda for Family-Focused Justice Reform. The fact that "[r]esearch shows that incarcerated youth and adults who have contact with supportive family members have better outcomes after their release," according to the document, underscores the importance of involving families when youth are detained, incarcerated, or even in out-of-home-placements. Here, the report's authors describe some specific ideas on how this applies to juvenile justice. --Ed.]

Drawing on their experience with Ohio Department of Youth Services, which the federal government ordered overhauled in 2008, [Laura] Dolan [bureau chief of facility programs, Ohio Department of Youth Service (ODYS)] and Shay Bilchik, who directs the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform at Georgetown University and is part of a team monitoring ODYS’s response to the settlement of a federal lawsuit, outlined the following practices that other agencies—including adult corrections, probation, and parole—might use as part of a more family-focused approach.

One Parent's Advice for the Juvenile Justice System

juvenile-justice-system_Sharon-Smith-MOMSTELLjuvenile-justice-system_AngieSharon Smith’s daughter Angela died in 1998 of a heroin overdose. She was 18 years old. For four years before her death, Angie (see photo, left) was in and out of 11 treatment centers, stood before a half dozen judges, and lived at one juvenile detention center. 
Sharon (shown at right) formed MOMSTELL in 2000 to advocate for more effective, accessible drug treatment and greater family involvement across the continuum of care and in the policy-making process. “Because no family should have to face the disease of addiction alone,” MOMSTELL is committed to identifying and removing barriers to treatment, many of which Sharon encountered when trying to find help for her daughter. 
Sharon was one of the organizers of the "national dialogue" sponsored in 2009 by SAMHSA for Families of Youth with Substance Use Disorders. Here, she illustrates some of those barriers specific to juvenile justice.

Families of Youth with Substance Use Disorders: A National Dialogue

adolescent-substance-abuse-treatment_national-family-dialogue-report-coverReclaiming Futures just sponsored a webinar by Dr. Howard Liddle on the clinical importance of working with the families of teens in the justice system as well as the young people themselves -- follow the link to listen to the webinar or download the slides -- but family involvement is critical in other areas as well, from program planning to policy-making. 
And as it happens, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is seeking comments on its proposed changes to its block grants (including target populations) -- comments are due this Friday, June 3, 2011 -- so it seems like a good time to remind everyone that in 2009, SAMHSA convened a group of family members from all across the country to look at barriers to their involvement, opportunities for change, and to make recommendations for improvement. 

NEW DATE - Webinar: Why and How to Work with Families of Justice-Involved Adolescents

I doubt that there is an influence on the development of antisocial behavior among young people that is stronger than that of the family. (Steinberg, 2000)[i]
The most successful programs are those that emphasize family interactions, probably because they focus on providing skills to the adults who are in the best position to supervise and train the child. (Greenwood, 2009)[ii]
adolescent-substance-abuse-treatment_compassThanks to many independent reviews, consensus documents, and meta-analyses of the evidence base on how to work effectively with juvenile offenders, there are numerous signs that the specialty has achieved a certain level of maturity.[iii]
A significant part of this new generation of work in the field pertains to the accumulated and rigorously derived findings about the role of families, family relationships, and parenting practices as key aspects of the creation and maintenance,[iv] as well as the reversal of antisocial and other problem behaviors.[v]
For some time, we’ve “known” that it can be beneficial to involve families more substantively and consistently in working with juvenile offenders, as evidenced in this quote: “In this era of an increased focus on public sector accountability, one of the important questions posed to policymakers and elected officials may be ‘Why are you waiting so long to support families?’ ” (Duchnowski, Hall, Kutash, & Friedman, 1998[vi]).

How to Help Families of Teens with Drug Problems - A CRAFT Training

adolescent-substance-abuse-treatment_cactus-needles-close-upHere's the problem with adolescent substance abuse treatment: young people who are using want nothing to do with it.
How can you help? You can help their family members get them into treatment.  
Sound simple? We all know it's anything but. So here's your chance to learn a clincally-backed protocol for helping families of youth (and adults) with serious drug and alcohol issues. According to studies done so far, family members who participate the Community Reinforcement and Family Training (CRAFT) get between 64% and 86% of their loved ones into treatment -- and they're more likely to stay engaged once they get there. 
Now's your chance to learn CRAFT:
Chestnut Health Systems is hosting a CRAFT training session with its creator, Dr. Robert J. Meyers (who was also involved in creation of the Adolescent Community Reinforcement Approach, which is aimed at teens). He'll be leading the CRAFT training September 19-21, 2011, at Chestnut Health Systems in Bloomington-Normal, IL; registration instructions are here.  Questions? Email Kelli Wright at Chestnut. 

UPDATE August 1, 2011 - The training scheduled for September 2011 has been cancelled. 

The National Parent Caucus; Meeting the Needs of Forgotten Families

juvenile-justice-reform_forget-backwardsBeginning in 1998, with my son's first arrest at the age of 12, I embarked on a journey that I was ill-equipped to handle. When I gave birth to my children, I had high hopes and dreams for them -- this arrest and the succeeding problems that lay ahead for him were never a part of those hopes and dreams.
I, like most family members who find themselves involved in the juvenile and criminal justice systems, was incredibly naive and made decisions based on what system professionals told me, never considering that it wasn't their job to help my son. Those decisions set a predictable course for my son, for those with knowledge and understanding, that would leave him emotionally and physically scarred for the rest of his life. I made those decisions without an understanding of what they meant for him or a conception of what it meant to have a "system-involved" child.  For the next three years, I walked this path alone in confusion and isolation. 

I sat through meetings where professionals talked about my son and I said nothing, because they presented themselves as the experts and seldom asked me anything. I sat in court rooms in front of a judge without an attorney or advocate, because I was told an attorney would only slow down my son getting the help he needed, and I believed this lie to be the truth. I sat outside the court house on the day my son was adjudicated as a delinquent and sent to a far-off facility because my legs would not carry me away from my baby, and still believed that I had done what was right. I sat by the phone for days, awaiting a call from the facility to inform me of where my son would be placed and when I would be able to visit.

Apply Now for NJJN Youth Justice Leadership Institute

"It's important that people really do understand that this void in [juvenile justice reform] leadership really is a hindrance ..."
-Diana Onley-Campbell, Program Manager, NJJN Youth Justice Leadership Institute
The National Juvenile Justice Network (NJJN) is seeking applicants for its new Youth Justice Leadership Institute. For a quick introduction to what the institute is and why it's critical to juvenile justice reform, check out my 6-minute interview with Ms. Onley-Campbell above, conducted in December, 2010. (Sorry the audio isn't quite in synch - I'm having extended technical difficulties - but I figured it worked well enough to get the point across.)

National Parent Caucus - 2011 Meeting Schedule

juvenile-justice-reform_woman-on-phoneAre you a parent of a teen in the juvenile justice system (or even the adult justice system)? Or do you work with parents who would be interested in connecting with other parents around the country on reforming the juvenile justice system? 
Then check out the National Parent Caucus. Run by the Campaign for Youth Justice, the caucus meets by phone on the first Thursday of every month 1 pm PST / 4 pm CST / 5 pm EST.  For call-in information, follow the link to get on the email list. 

Helping Teens in Detention Through the Holidays

juvenile-justice-system_scraggly-tree-with-one-christmas-bulb-institutional-settingWe 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!

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?