Santa Cruz Probation Collaboration Reduces Group Home Placements for Latino Youth

Posted October 3, 2019
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
FUERTE supports Latino youth in staying connected to their communities during probation.

In San­ta Cruz Coun­ty, Cal­i­for­nia, an analy­sis revealed that Lati­no youth on pro­ba­tion had worse out­comes and high­er rates of con­fine­ment than their white peers. In response, the coun­ty launched a cul­tur­al­ly informed effort known as FUERTE Wrap­around — or FUERTE, for short.

Thanks to FUERTE, the coun­ty — which has par­tic­i­pat­ed in the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion’s JDAI® for 20 years — has seen new place­ments of Lati­no youth in group homes fall by 86% since 2015.

The San­ta Cruz Pro­ba­tion Depart­ment cre­at­ed FUERTE (Famil­ias Unidas en Respec­to, Tran­quil­i­dad y Esperanza/​Families Unit­ed in Respect, Tran­quil­i­ty and Hope) after data indi­cat­ed that most out-of-home place­ments involved Lati­no youth, many of whom had men­tal health needs and his­to­ries of trau­ma. Par­ents of these youth were also grap­pling with a host of chal­lenges — includ­ing lan­guage bar­ri­ers, cul­tur­al dif­fer­ences and unfor­giv­ing work sched­ules, juve­nile pro­ba­tion offi­cials observed.

Sup­port­ing Com­mu­ni­ty Connections

With these hur­dles defined, the depart­ment teamed up with the non­prof­it Encom­pass Com­mu­ni­ty Ser­vices to con­nect youth to men­tal health care, improve out­reach to fam­i­lies, expand sched­ul­ing beyond the stan­dard work­week, and deliv­er all of these ser­vices to Lati­no youth and fam­i­lies in their home communities

We can’t expect suc­cess if we iso­late youth from their fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties,” says Nate Balis, direc­tor of the Casey Foundation’s Juve­nile Jus­tice Strat­e­gy Group. FUERTE demon­strates the impor­tance of meet­ing youth and fam­i­lies where they are, and active­ly involv­ing them in iden­ti­fy­ing needs and solu­tions with­in their own communities.”

The pro­gram, which is vol­un­tary, uti­lizes a team approach that includes a tran­si­tion­al spe­cial­ist, men­tal health clin­i­cian and pro­ba­tion offi­cer — all of whom speak Span­ish. Fam­i­lies learn about FUERTE before their first team meet­ing, which enables them to make an informed deci­sion about participating.

FUERTE links youth to trau­ma-focused cog­ni­tive behav­ioral ther­a­py, out­pa­tient treat­ment for sub­stance use, job coach­ing and 24-hour cri­sis sup­port. At the same time, tran­si­tion­al spe­cial­ists help par­ents and fam­i­lies tack­le issues relat­ed to hous­ing, pub­lic ben­e­fits, food inse­cu­ri­ty, men­tal health care and sub­stance use.

Many fam­i­lies have their own unmet needs that might dis­tract from their abil­i­ty to sup­port the young per­son in the home,” says Assis­tant Chief Pro­ba­tion Offi­cer Valerie Thompson.

Thus far, the pro­gram appears to be work­ing — and well. In addi­tion to an 86% drop in new place­ment orders to group homes, 84% of FUERTE youth report­ed improve­ment in at least one life domain, such as fam­i­ly func­tion­ing, deci­sion mak­ing or school behav­ior. Also impres­sive: 90% of par­ents say they are sat­is­fied par­tic­i­pants and 93% report that their par­ent­ing skills have improved in at least one area.

Who Are FUERTE Youth?

Par­tic­i­pants range in age from 13 to 18, and they can remain in the pro­gram up to age 20. Most — 75% — are Lati­no boys and offens­es range from mis­de­meanors to more seri­ous offenses.

FUERTE accepts youth whose pro­ba­tion assess­ments indi­cate high social-emo­tion­al needs or fam­i­ly dys­func­tion as well as those who have a men­tal health diag­no­sis or dis­play symp­toms of men­tal illness.

Resources on Youth Serv­ing on Probation

Ven­tu­ra Coun­ty’s approach to Lati­no youth on probation

Plan-Do-Study-Act charts a Course for Boost­ing Grad­u­a­tion Rates Among Youth on Probation

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