Framework and Tool Help Juvenile Justice Agencies Treat Families as Partners

Updated on June 22, 2022, and originally posted March 2, 2021, by the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Mother with teen son

Fam­i­lies are cen­tral to a young person’s sup­port net­work, sense of iden­ti­ty and healthy devel­op­ment. A frame­work and tool from the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion helps juve­nile jus­tice agen­cies devel­op and main­tain col­lab­o­ra­tive rela­tion­ships with fam­i­ly mem­bers and engage them as valu­able part­ners in encour­ag­ing pos­i­tive behav­ior change, per­son­al growth and long-term suc­cess for youth in the jus­tice system.

Fam­i­lies are cen­tral to a young person’s sup­port net­work, sense of iden­ti­ty and healthy devel­op­ment,” says Opal West, a senior asso­ciate with the Foun­da­tion. For juve­nile jus­tice agen­cies, new part­ner­ships with fam­i­lies can bring fresh per­spec­tives to help­ing youth reach their full potential.”

Down­load the framework

With­out a defin­i­tive road map, efforts to involve and sup­port fam­i­lies as they nav­i­gate through the juve­nile jus­tice sys­tem look dif­fer­ent from place to place. Build­ing on efforts through­out the coun­try, this frame­work com­bines research with con­crete advice from the field on the mind­sets, con­cepts and prac­tices need­ed to bet­ter engage fam­i­lies. While it can­not account for all the unique fea­tures of every agency and every fam­i­ly, the frame­work dis­tills broad issues of fam­i­ly engage­ment into four essen­tial, digestible concepts:

  1. Cre­at­ing a staff cul­ture cen­tered on fam­i­lies. Sys­tems active­ly work to trans­form their cul­tures and shift staff per­cep­tions through poli­cies and train­ing that focus on fam­i­ly needs and strengths — devel­op­ing staff who are focused on serv­ing youth and their families.
  2. Defin­ing what makes a fam­i­ly. The legal def­i­n­i­tion of a fam­i­ly is changed to extend beyond bio­log­i­cal par­ents and legal guardians.
  3. Sup­port­ing, guid­ing and advo­cat­ing for fam­i­lies. Sys­tems cre­ate poli­cies to ensure fam­i­lies are offered train­ing on the juve­nile jus­tice sys­tem, devel­op­ing a net­work of sup­port ser­vices and resources to address fam­i­ly needs through­out the process.
  4. Empow­er­ing fam­i­ly voice and retain­ing fam­i­ly con­nec­tions. Sys­tems engage fam­i­lies at the ear­li­est point pos­si­ble, cre­ate an envi­ron­ment where fam­i­lies are empow­ered to have a voice in all deci­sion mak­ing and employ prac­tices that allow youth to main­tain con­tact with their fam­i­lies as eas­i­ly and fre­quent­ly as possible.

Six Juris­dic­tions Test­ed the Frame­work and Action Planner

Casey select­ed six juris­dic­tions in a com­pet­i­tive process to test the frame­work in 2021. They were Ashtab­u­la, Ohio, with its com­mu­ni­ty part­ner YMCA; Char­lottesville, Vir­ginia, with its com­mu­ni­ty part­ner Com­mu­ni­ty Atten­tion; Dou­glas Coun­ty, Nebras­ka; State of Mary­land; Pima Coun­ty, Ari­zona; and Pinal Coun­ty, Arizona.

After assess­ing the expe­ri­ence of the six juris­dic­tions, West said: It’s most effec­tive when agen­cies care­ful­ly con­sid­er how to make the most of oppor­tu­ni­ties in their local con­text and adjust to meet their community’s needs.”

Pinal Coun­ty Juve­nile Court Ser­vices, for instance, chose to focus on sup­port­ing, guid­ing and advo­cat­ing for fam­i­lies dur­ing the pilot phase. We know that the chil­dren and fam­i­lies we serve live in com­mu­ni­ties with lim­it­ed resources and face many bar­ri­ers when it comes to ser­vices,” said Cele­na M. Ang­stead, Pinal County’s oper­a­tions man­ag­er for youth pro­ba­tion. As they worked through the action plan­ner, the pro­ba­tion staff real­ized that not only could they be build­ing the bridges [for fam­i­lies] to need­ed ser­vices,” but — if they first devel­oped and main­tained col­lab­o­ra­tive rela­tion­ships with com­mu­ni­ty part­ners — they could be giv­ing the fam­i­lies a warm hand-off, rather than just a list of local resources.” As a result of the shift in mind­set and prac­tice, real rela­tion­ships are being built, and this is a bet­ter way to go about doing our type of busi­ness,” Ang­stead said.

Improve­ments to the Action Planner

The juris­dic­tions in the pilot used an Excel-based tem­plate to help them devel­op plans and track their progress. Based on feed­back from the par­tic­i­pat­ing sites, the tool has been updat­ed to give clear­er exam­ples of what each con­cept might look like in prac­tice at both sys­tem and case lev­els. As users move through the tool, the tem­plate guides them in artic­u­lat­ing con­crete action steps, cre­at­ing real­is­tic time­lines and assign­ing roles and responsibilities.

Insights from the Pilot Jurisdictions

The pilot con­firmed the usabil­i­ty and effec­tive­ness of the frame­work and action plan­ning tools. The juris­dic­tions that made the most progress on fam­i­ly engage­ment fol­lowed up on feed­back, con­tin­u­al­ly revis­it­ed and revised their action plans and invest­ed time in clar­i­fy­ing where they were going with their fam­i­ly engage­ment efforts and why,” West said.

Learn about effec­tive juve­nile pro­ba­tion practice

Learn how to sup­port youth in trou­ble with the law

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