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):

Challenge:

Identifying family members or other supportive adults who can promote positive outcomes for youth

Strategies:

  • 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.

Challenge:

Supporting families in navigating the juvenile justice system and remaining involved with their children

Strategies:

  • 1. Establish a culture of alliance with families who have children in the juvenile justice system.

    • Train staff to ensure that all practitioners who work with youth have the skills to communicate with families in a way that recognizes and validates their experience, culture, concerns, and needs.
    • Carry out family-focused policies and practices across the juvenile justice continuum.
  • 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.

Challenge:

Engaging families to play an active role in youth’s case planning and treatment

Strategies:

Challenge:

Establishing and tracking family engagement performance measures

Strategies:

  • 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.

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