Probation is the most common disposition in the juvenile justice system. Yet, jurisdictions across the United States have not fully aligned their probation policies and practices with a developmental approach—one that recognizes the science on youth development and embraces a more holistic, collaborative, therapeutic and community-centered philosophy to serving youth and families.
This publication focuses on one of the values and strategies at the core of the Transforming Juvenile Probation approach—that is, the essential need for partnering with and empowering youth and families in probation policy and practice. It reviews research literature on youth and family partnerships and discusses challenges and strategies related to this most important endeavor.
The document is the first installment in a three-part series that shares themes from the national movement to fundamentally transform juvenile probation practices. Its content also aligns with a certificate program supported by the Annie E. Casey Program and launched by Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy.
Benefits of Youth and Family Partnerships
Engaging youth and families in juvenile justice probation practices has proven benefits for youth, families and communities.
When probation officers and leaders meaningfully connect with young people, the youth involved have an opportunity to share important information about their lives and the types of supports they need to succeed. Approaches centered on youth and family are associated with a number of positive outcomes, including: higher levels of academic engagement, increased numbers of positive relationships and decreased likelihood of recidivism. In addition, strong family involvement can help promote youth safety, permanency and well-being while shielding a young person from harmful external influences.
Strategies to Establish Strong Youth and Family Partnerships
Juvenile probation staff and partners have ample opportunities to develop and sustain strong partnerships with youth and families. Strategies that system leaders and practitioners can use to authentically engage young people and their support systems include: broadening the definition of family, using accessible language, incorporating family strengths into case plans, providing individualized support to families and elevating the voices of youth and families in new agency policies.
The path to transforming youth probation carries benefits for young people, their families and those working in the juvenile probation field
Findings & Stats
Strategies for Forging Meaningful Partnerships
Seven strategies that juvenile probation staff and partners can embrace to support strong youth and family partnerships are: 1) make youth and family partnerships a key system priority; 2) broadly define “family”; 3) simplify the language that juvenile probation professionals use; 4) empower youth and families to drive case planning; 5) address the needs of youth and families as a whole; 6) provide training and support to probation staff and partners; and 7) engage youth and families in system transformation efforts.
Barriers to Collaboration
Four common barriers that juvenile probation officials may encounter when engaging young people and their families are: 1) the persistence of biases, racism, and the adultification of youth of color; 2) system distrust based on past and current experiences; 3) the failure to fully appreciate and meet the needs of youth and families; and 4) the failure of systems to actively engage youth and families.
An Overview of Family-Engaged Case Planning
The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Family-Engaged Case Planning Model offers a more strength-based approach to engaging youth and their family members in the case planning process. The overarching stages in this process include engaging with family members early to establish common goals and an understanding of system processes, utilizing families’ expertise to inform youth’s case plan, and creating a case plan that is agreed upon and understood by all parties.
Statements & Quotations
While juvenile justice systems in the United States have seen significant advancements in the past two decades, recidivism rates have remained alarmingly high, and youth and families involved in the legal system continue to experience poor and inequitable outcomes.
To improve outcomes for youth, families and communities, it is essential that juvenile probation be transformed from a mechanism to control, surveil and punish youth to a support system that promotes positive youth development, advances racial equity and fairness and meets the holistic needs of youth and families alike.
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