Framework and Tool Help Juvenile Justice Agencies Treat Families as Partners

Updated June 22, 2022 | 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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