Projects: Family-Youth Initiative (FYI): Developing National Standards in Juvenile Justice for Engaging Family

The Family Justice Program is partnering with the Performance-based Standards Learning Institute (PbS Li) to develop national standards for juvenile correctional facilities to engage incarcerated youths’ family members in all aspects of the youths’ incarceration. PbS Li has developed a system of Performance-based Standards (PbS) that allows agencies and facilities to identify, monitor, and improve conditions and treatment services for incarcerated youth using national standards and outcome measures. This project is funded by the Public Welfare Foundation.

PbS Li, an initiative of the Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators (CJCA), provides national standards for juvenile placement facility administrators. Juvenile justice agencies routinely report to the institute on facilities’ performance, and receive comparisons of the intrastate results as well as the results between states. Through this information exchange, PbS Li helps juvenile correctional facilities to develop self-improvement plans including continuous self-monitoring to ensure that youth return to the community with the skills and support they need to succeed. The current standards target critical areas of facility operations: safety, order, security, health and mental health services, justice, programming, and planning for reintegration into the community.

Juvenile justice experts recognize that family and others who provide social supports are critical to young people’s success during and after residential placement. The FYI project will foster the creation of a body of nationally recognized standards to help facilities and agencies gauge their ability to engage families and connect youth with supportive people who can help them meet their goals. By implementing these standards, juvenile justice agencies will learn how an intentional focus on families affects other aspects of the facility. Because the Ohio Department of Youth Services is the first system in the United States to implement the Family Justice Program approach statewide, it is the ideal agency to pilot the newly developed family-specific performance-based standards. Vera and PbS Li aim to introduce the new standards in other jurisdictions in the future, with the goal of establishing them nationwide. 

Why develop national standards for family engagement?

The majority of youth leaving juvenile facilities return home to a family member or guardian. Research shows that incarcerated young people who maintain positive relationships with their loved ones are more likely to accomplish the goals they have established with facility staff who are mapping their progress through the juvenile justice system. Once they return home, they may have better overall outcomes if they have the support of family members through the inevitable challenges that arise—something that practitioners can help to ensure by incorporating the perspectives of supportive family into case management and parole plans.

Vera’s work in Ohio and CJCA’s work with other states have shown that juvenile justice officials are looking for ways to measure and improve their skill in involving families and other people important to youth in their programs and planning. Existing performance-based standards can be improved by augmenting them with an explicit focus on family and other social support. The additional standards will allow juvenile justice agencies to set goals regarding family engagement and then monitor their improvement using recommended strategies and measures to track their progress.

For more information, contact Ryan Shanahan.

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Last year, the Vera Institute of Justice’s Family Justice Program wrapped up a multi-year project to develop and pilot family engagement standards for the Performance-based Standards Learning Institute. All juvenile corrections facilities...
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Rebecca Garza is Family Liaison Coordinator for the Texas Juvenile Justice Department. In a recent survey of youth at a Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD) facility, the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition heard from youth that staying connected...