Juvenile Justice System Focuses on Strengths of Youth and Families in Massachusetts

Posted February 6, 2017
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog juvenilejusticesystemfocusesonstrengths MA 2017

A new train­ing cur­ricu­lum being pilot­ed in Mass­a­chu­setts focus­es on cre­at­ing strong con­nec­tions between front­line staff and youth in the juve­nile jus­tice sys­tem. The objec­tive is to trans­form the efforts of staff in the sys­tem, who make impor­tant deci­sions that direct­ly affect youth and have an oppor­tu­ni­ty to build on young people’s strengths to improve outcomes.

The Foun­da­tion has been sup­port­ing two Mass­a­chu­setts-based insti­tu­tions— Whee­lock College’s Depart­ment of Juve­nile Jus­tice and Youth Advo­ca­cy and the School & Main Insti­tute— to launch the train­ing, called Re-Imag­in­ing Juve­nile Jus­tice. Whee­lock Col­lege and the heads of the commonwealth’s juve­nile court, juve­nile cor­rec­tions agency, pro­ba­tion agency, child wel­fare agency and pub­lic defend­er agency brought the idea of fund­ing the pilot to the Casey Foundation.

We believe in a sys­tem that locks up few­er youth and focus­es more on devel­op­ing the assets of youth and fam­i­lies,” says David E. Brown, a senior asso­ciate in the Foundation’s Juve­nile Jus­tice Strat­e­gy Group,who has been work­ing with the two schools. If we can influ­ence how staff react to tech­ni­cal vio­la­tions of pro­ba­tion and think about case plans, then we can move a sys­tem toward a more devel­op­men­tal approach.”

Pro­ba­tion offi­cers, for instance, influ­ence deci­sions at mul­ti­ple stages of a young person’s case, such as whether to divert them from the for­mal sys­tem or to rec­om­mend either com­mu­ni­ty place­ment or out-of-home placement.The tra­di­tion­al rigid, rules-ori­ent­ed and sur­veil­lance-focused approach to pro­ba­tion too often results in con­fine­ment trig­gered by tech­ni­cal vio­la­tions of pro­ba­tion, such as missed cur­fews, appoint­ments or days at school.

The most crit­i­cal part of pos­i­tive youth devel­op­ment train­ing, accord­ing to Brown, is empha­siz­ing the fact that young peo­ple need a con­nec­tion to a con­sis­tent, car­ing adult in order to flour­ish. If front­line staff can become that car­ing adult or make sure each youth is con­nect­ed to a car­ing adult, then the chance of a pos­i­tive out­come is much high­er,” Brown explains.

Twen­ty-one prac­ti­tion­ers from across Mass­a­chu­setts — pro­ba­tion offi­cers, pub­lic defend­ers, juve­nile jus­tice agency staff and com­mu­ni­ty-based orga­ni­za­tion rep­re­sen­ta­tives — attend­ed the pilot train­ing, which con­sist­ed of five month­ly ses­sions and a cap­stone project. Feed­back from the par­tic­i­pants has been pos­i­tive. “[It] is thought-pro­vok­ing and chal­leng­ing, forc­ing one to exam­ine how and why we approach the youth of our work/​world,” wrote San­dra Hilario, the assis­tant chief pro­ba­tion offi­cer from the Mid­dle­sex Juve­nile Court.

Now that the pilot is com­plete, the cur­ricu­lum is being tweaked to reflect feed­back and eval­u­a­tion results and to make it applic­a­ble beyond Mass­a­chu­setts. Once that is done, the cur­ricu­lum will become an addi­tion­al resource for JDAI prac­ti­tion­ers who are rethink­ing the train­ing they pro­vide to their front­line staff across mul­ti­ple con­nect­ed agencies.

Popular Posts

View all blog posts   |   Browse Topics

Youth with curly hair in pink shirt

blog   |   June 3, 2021

Defining LGBTQ Terms and Concepts

A mother and her child are standing outdoors, each with one arm wrapped around the other. They are looking at each other and smiling. The child has a basketball in hand.

blog   |   August 1, 2022

Child Well-Being in Single-Parent Families