Framework and Tool Help Juvenile Justice Agencies Treat Families as Partners

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 new 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.

When pub­lic sys­tems seek out and lis­ten to the view­points of fam­i­ly mem­bers about their expe­ri­ence inter­act­ing with the agency, then input and part­ner­ship from fam­i­lies can con­tribute to con­tin­u­ous improve­ment of the jus­tice sys­tem,” says Opal West, a pro­gram asso­ciate with the Foundation.

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.

The tool explains the ratio­nale behind the indi­vid­ual con­cepts and how they can be applied at both sys­tem and case lev­els. As users move through the tool, they will find a list of crit­i­cal progress fac­tors for each con­cept that can help agen­cies assess whether they’re on the right track.

The frame­work sug­gests spe­cif­ic changes agen­cies could adopt to mean­ing­ful­ly engage fam­i­lies now and sus­tain engage­ment in the longer term. The tool includes an imple­men­ta­tion oppor­tu­ni­ties check­list that shows what each con­cept might look like in prac­tice — but 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.

The tool includes a tem­plate to help agen­cies devel­op strong plans for improv­ing their approach to mean­ing­ful fam­i­ly engage­ment. The tem­plate empha­sizes pay­ing close atten­tion to artic­u­lat­ing con­crete action steps, cre­at­ing real­is­tic time­lines and assign­ing roles and responsibilities.

In 2021, Casey will launch a field test of the frame­work in local and state juris­dic­tions. Par­tic­i­pat­ing sites will use the guid­ing con­cepts to devel­op and imple­ment their own action plans for effec­tive­ly engag­ing fam­i­lies and reduc­ing adver­sar­i­al expe­ri­ences — so fam­i­lies can become allies in young people’s long-term success.

Learn about effec­tive juve­nile pro­ba­tion practice

Learn how to sup­port youth in trou­ble with the law

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