Projects: Engaging Families of Youth in Kentucky

The Family Justice Program partnered with the Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice to make services more family-oriented in the agency’s detention centers, youth development centers, and group homes. A consistent, system-wide focus on the strengths of youth and their families was designed to help young people succeed after their release.

Although most Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) facilities are located in rural areas, they serve youth from small communities and large metropolitan areas. Vera’s Family Justice Program worked with DJJ to develop policies and practices for engaging family members at each of its three types of facilities. Detention centers, youth development centers, and group homes provide unique opportunities for staff to partner with families and other people important to youth. Young people living in group homes, for example, are eligible for furloughs—short visits home that are intended to prepare them and their families for a permanent transition. 

Drawing on input from youth and their families, project staff worked with DJJ and facility staff to ensure that forms, policies, and practices reflect the importance of family in preparing young people in custody for a successful transition home.

As a broad definition of family provides youth a bigger and potentially strong safety net, the Family Justice Program understands family to include not just immediate and extended relatives but also elected members, such as romantic partners, friends, neighbors, and clergy. 

Why should juvenile justice systems focus on families?

Most young people leaving facilities will go home to live with a family member or guardian. Research shows that incarcerated youth who have positive relationships with their loved ones have more positive experiences while they are incarcerated and are more likely to meet their reentry goals after their release. Accordingly, case managers and other staff should be encouraged and prepared to incorporate family in young people’s release planning.

For more information, contact Margaret diZerega.

Featured Expert

Director, Family Justice Program