By Benjamin Chambers, November 01 2010
Most 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:
- availability and access to effective early prevention and intervention
- communicating respect
- juvenile court policy and practice
- statewide policy and oversight
I was particularly interested in the first item on the list, because it rang true to my experience in talking with parents of children in the juvenile justice system, who are often frustrated and angry that despite years of warning signs (and efforts on their part to address them) their children had to end up in court. Here's a brief quote:
Families described [in the focus groups] unaddressed learning problems and subsequent social and behavioral problems, undiagnosed mental health needs, experimentation with substance use, and engagement in risky and ill-considered actions that frequently began during elementary school. Youth described being scapegoated by school personnel, rather than helped when they were having problems, and bullied by their peers, while the same personnel turned a blind eye or even gave covert support to the harassment.
Families discussed their frustration and sense of hopelessness when told nothing could be done to help their child.
Sound familiar? I bet it does. Imagine how that might translate into "uncooperative" caregivers when youth finally roll up in juvenile court.
But there was lots more in this brief report worthy of note. Check out the recommendations for how local juvenile justice systems can:
- work to prevent juvenile justice involvement;
- communicate respect to families; and
- increase family involvement at the local and state levels.
Use the document as a blueprint for change, or mine it for ideas to improve the level of family involvement in your system.
And let us know what you think: does the document overlook anything important? Are there areas where Pennsylvania's experience doesn't apply to your community? What's worked in your community?
- Six Tips for Engaging Families in Juvenile Justice System Reform and Advocacy
- Juvenile Justice Reform: Fixing the Information Mismatch
Updated: March 21 2018