Juvenile Justice Research-to-Practice Implementation Resources: Family Engagement and Involvement
Research shows that youth who have supportive caregivers have better outcomes than youth with less supportive caregivers. This is true across the juvenile justice, child welfare, behavioral health, and education systems. Youth whose caregivers do not provide consistent structure and support are at far greater risk of engaging in continued delinquent behavior and suffering poor behavioral health, education, and employment outcomes into adulthood. But practitioners often struggle to implement family engagement and involvement policies and practices effectively. Below are suggested strategies, tools, examples, and best-practice models from across the country that juvenile justice agency managers, staff, and other practitioners may consider adopting to effectively implement family engagement practices and promote positive outcomes for youth in the juvenile justice system.
Key Implementation Challenges and Strategies (click on each strategy below for more detail):
Identifying family members or other supportive adults who can promote positive outcomes for youth
1. Define “family” broadly.
- Family should be understood to include traditional and non-traditional caregivers and other supportive adults. The family and youth should name those who are considered family.
2. Identify family members and other supportive adults using visual tools, questionnaires, and other models developed by the field.
- Employ Family Finding, an approach borrowed from the child welfare field, which seeks to connect all youth to supportive adults.
- Refer to Six Steps to Find a Family: A Practice Guide to Family Search and Engagement, which supports practitioners in identifying and engaging family and other supportive adults for youth both in the community and in out-of-home placements.
- Use genograms and eco-maps, visual tools that help practitioners facilitate conversations with youth and family members.
- Complete the Family Case Management Flowchart, which uses a broad definition of “family” to facilitate the identification of both family relationships and community supports.
- Work with the Juvenile Relational Inquiry Tool (JRIT), a series of questions designed to help practitioners identify family members and other supportive adults and build a rapport with them.
Supporting families in navigating the juvenile justice system and remaining involved with their children
1. Establish a culture of alliance with families who have children in the juvenile justice system.
2. Educate families about their children’s experience in the justice system.
- Supply family guides to introduce family members to the structure, procedures, staff roles, and terminology of the juvenile justice system and how they may advocate for and support their children within that system.
- Develop a parents of incarcerated children “bill of rights,” a short resource that educates parents on their rights and opportunities to be involved with their children who are under system supervision.
3. Provide peer supports.
- Enlist family engagement specialists or family advocates, people who help families understand the system and stay connected to their children, and whose own children may have been in contact with the juvenile justice system.
- Organize parent and peer support groups and family councils, which bring together multiple families of youth in the juvenile justice system to learn from and support each other, as well as inform juvenile justice policy and practice.
4. Outreach to families.
- Consider recommendations related to the treatment of families throughout the case continuum, a roadmap for practitioners working with the families of youth at different stages of involvement with the juvenile justice system.
- Consult Families Unlocking Futures: Solutions to the Crisis in Juvenile Justice, which provides an overview of recommendations from families of incarcerated youth on how to effectively engage and involve them.
- Develop scripts for staff who are initiating outreach to a youth’s family or caregivers prior to meeting in person.
Engaging families to play an active role in youth’s case planning and treatment
1. Involve families in supervision and service decisions.
- Implement family team meetings, Family Group Decision Making, or Effective Practices in Community Support for Influencers, models that include youth’s caregiver networks in collective decision making on case planning, services, and supervision.
- Adopt the evidence-based Functional Family Probation model, wherein probation officers engage with and provide case management to the families of youth who are under community supervision.
- Introduce Functional Family Therapy, Multi-Dimensional Treatment Foster Care, or Multi-Systemic Therapy, three programs with strong evidentiary support that aim to provide intensive, in-home family therapy.
2. Provide opportunities for family contact with youth placed in facilities.
- Implement flexible and inclusive family visitation hours and policies, which increase youth’s contacts with supportive adults and lead to positive outcomes.
- Offer transportation assistance to families in order to promote more frequent contact with children who are placed in residential facilities.
- Use communication technology, which helps support—but should not replace—family contact when in-person meetings are difficult to arrange.
- Consider requiring family contact and engagement as part of supervision policy and practice for youth in the community and in facilities.
- Hold family days, graduations, performances, Mother’s/Father’s Day gatherings, and youth celebration events to bring families together and connect them with their children.
Establishing and tracking family engagement performance measures
1. Solicit family input on agency policies, practices, and outreach efforts.
- Establish family and youth advisory groups who are tasked with regularly reviewing agency policies and practices and ensure that they are family friendly.
- Administer family surveys to assess and continually improve upon the agency’s family engagement efforts.
- Conduct focus groups with youth in the juvenile justice system and their families to gain valuable insights on how to improve family engagement.
2. Hold staff accountable for family outreach and support.
- Consider taking part in Performance-based Standards (PbS) for Youth in Correction and Detention Facilities, a program that requires participating agencies to survey families and youth to gather feedback about facility conditions, staff, services, and overall satisfaction with their experiences.
- Formally assess juvenile performance with regard to family engagement at all points across the juvenile justice continuum.