Engaging Families with Justice-Involved Youths—Missing Piece of the Puzzle

Posted by Karyn Rautenberg
January 15, 2014

The juvenile justice system’s goal is to rehabilitate youths; when youths enter programs and facilities, there are many pieces of the puzzle to successfully rehabilitate the youth and reintegrate them into the community but one unmistakable piece is the youth’s family and social supports. Where do youths go when they are released? Who is there to help them succeed? A national wave of research focusing on engaging families and social supports has shown that families are the most frequent provider of housing and financial support; additionally, involving families in youths’ rehabilitation showed better employment outcomes and a reduction in substance abuse. With this research base, Performance-based Standards (PbS) has responded by working tirelessly with national leaders to develop the Family-Youth Initiative (FYI) with an overarching goal “To engage and collaborate with families and people who support youths while youths are in custody.”

PbS collaborated with the Family Justice Program of the Vera Institute of Justice to develop FYI and convened a national Advisory Board involving representatives from families, facilities and research entities.  Working with these partners, PbS released a pilot survey in 2012 for families and social supports that captures the families’ experiences with the facility orientation, visiting and contact, treatment planning and communication and discharge planning. You may be surprised by some of the results: in October 2013, 96% of family members reported that staff treat them with respect and 92% reported that staff make it easier for them to stay in contact with their child. Feedback has been valuable for facilities, showing them ways that the facility is succeeding in engaging families and highlighting ways the facility can improve. Some participants have already improved their practices by providing more information to the families, providing tours and changing visitation policies to better accommodate the families.

In addition to surveying families, new questions were added to the youth and staff climate surveys to provide a fuller perspective about family engagement.  You can read more about it in PbS’ new issue brief “Family-Youth Initiative,” which explains the history of FYI and shares results of family-related questions. PbS offers this brief as another in our series translating research into practices and to advance our commitment to treat all youths in custody as one of our own.