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October 01, 2012

How to Engage Families in Youth Justice Systems

The views expressed herein have not been approved by the House of Delegates or the Board of Governors of the American Bar Association, and accordingly, should not be construed as representing the policy of the American Bar Association.

Families with children in the juvenile justice system want chances to support their children. That is the message in a new report, Families Unlocking Futures: Solutions to the Crisis in Juvenile Justice, by Justice for Families. Lack of communication and involvement once a child enters the juvenile justice system are troublesome for many parents and families.

Creating a youth justice system that engages and partners with families can happen if juvenile courts and correction agencies take a few simple steps:

  1. Give families more timely notice of court dates. Avoid long wait periods before calling cases and don’t leave families hanging regarding if and when cases will be heard.

  2. Hold court appearances when it is easier for families to attend hearings. Avoid having parents take time off from work to attend hearings. If child care is a barrier, help support those needs.

  3. Support families’ transportation to court and residential placements. Don’t let transportation be a barrier to a families’ ability to participate and support the youth.

  4. Avoid taking away visits for misconduct in the corrections facility. Have more visitation opportunities and fewer limits on who can visit. Visits are a key way for families to support the youth and check on his or her progress and safety.

  5. Maintain a staffed hotline or call center for families who have questions about visitation. Give families an easy way to get information about visits.

  6. Notify families of expected release dates to give them enough time to prepare. Discuss release plans with families in advance so they have time to prepare and address such challenges as reenrolling in school, getting a job, securing a place to live, and obtaining medications/health care.

  7. Locate facilities/programs closer to family residences. Having to travel far to access juvenile facilities and programs creates a barrier for many families that denies the youth needed supports.

These tips were drawn from parents and families surveyed in the report. View the report for research results and more practice and policy tips.