July | August 2013

Families With Children in the Justice System Share Their Experiences, Offer Recommendations in New OJJDP Publication

OJJDP has released OJJDP Family Listening Sessions: Executive Summary, a report on the findings from four listening sessions held with families and youth who had direct experiences with the juvenile justice system at the local and state levels. In collaboration with the Campaign for Youth Justice and Education Development Center, Inc., OJJDP convened the listening sessions from March through July 2011. The goal of the sessions was to learn firsthand about the experiences of system-involved families and to explore ways to improve family engagement and ensure better outcomes for children and youth.

Following are some examples of common themes and recommendations highlighted in the report:

  • Youth in elementary and middle school consistently exhibited early warning signs—including truancy, a drop in grades, and evidence of mental health problems—before their first detention. These warning signs should serve as critical prevention/intervention points for at-risk youth.
  • Most parents and guardians of youth entering the justice system for the first time had no access to information and policies regarding visitation, legal rights or representation, allowable medical supplies or treatments, and opportunities for continued education. Among the recommendations put forth by families was ample notification of trial dates or plea bargains to allow sufficient time to seek appropriate counsel, as well as timely notification and guidance when a child is moved to a new facility or a hospital for treatment.
  • Family members commonly felt shame and guilt as a result of their treatment by law enforcement and other system officials. Families expressed a need for support during this critical juncture rather than treatment that implies they deserve blame for their children’s mistakes.
  • All participants agreed that effective aftercare support and reentry programs are essential for a successful transition. They suggested that services that successfully address the full range of issues and needs—education, mental health, substance abuse, and other factors—would make their children better able to transition successfully back into the community and decrease the likelihood that they would reoffend.

OJJDP is using the information gleaned from these listening sessions to strengthen policies and activities (e.g., grantmaking and technical assistance); inform guidance to jurisdictions interested in partnering with youth and families; and raise national awareness about the importance of family engagement in the juvenile justice system. These efforts include OJJDP staff development, Webinars, presentations before key stakeholder groups, the inclusion of family members on specific working groups and committees to ensure that all system reform efforts incorporate the voices of youth and families, and coordination with other federal agencies on identifying and applying effective youth and family engagement strategies and practices.

Resources:

OJJDP’s new publication, OJJDP Family Listening Sessions: Executive Summary is accessible online. To learn more about other OJJDP efforts to promote family engagement, read "Engaging Families as Valued Partners in the Juvenile Justice System" and “OJJDP Participates in Briefing, Launches Webinar Series on Family Engagement in the Juvenile Justice System” from past issues of OJJDP News @ a Glance.

The Campaign for Youth Justice has released FAMILY Comes First: A Workbook to Transform the Justice System by Partnering with Families. The workbook provides practical tools and resources for juvenile justice system practitioners who are undertaking a family-driven approach to juvenile justice.