On Monday, The Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ) released a new report, “Family Comes First: A Workbook to Transform the Justice System by Partnering with Families.”
The analysis is the first of its kind to assess both family engagement and partnership practices comprehensively in the United States’ juvenile justice system, additionally providing resources and other tools for system officials to better implement family-driven strategies.
Partnering with the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), the CFYJ conducted numerous interviews with families with youth in the nation’s criminal justice systems and compared the data with survey responses from several juvenile justice system leaders.
According to the report, families with systems-involved youth and juvenile justice system officials both believe that families are oftentimes unable to access even basic information about their legal rights and court system processes, with social and financial supports frequently unavailable to them. Parents and systems leaders also seem to agree that agencies are not adequately staffed to help out families, and that families should have the ability to engage “in decision-making at all levels” while receiving additional supports to increase the likelihood of positive youth outcomes.
Citing several programs using family-driven strategies -- among them, the Texas-based Southwest Key Programs and Pennsylvania’s Youth Advocate Programs, Inc. -- the report makes numerous suggestions to increase family involvement in the juvenile justice system.
The report urges the establishment of both a national technical assistance and resource center to improve family engagement and assist state agencies looking to either begin or expand existing programs. Non-federal recommendations include the hiring of family engagement coordinators within each juvenile justice agency or program on the state and local level, with agencies and programs of the like performing “comprehensive assessments” to develop and implement family-driven strategies.
“This report underscores the critical importance of involving families in juvenile justice,” CFYJ President and CEO Liz Ryan is quoted in a press release. “‘Family Comes First’ serves as a guide for juvenile justice system practitioners to implement a new, family-driven approach to juvenile justice.”