The United States Department of Justice has released a report stating youths’ civil rights have been violated in New York State’s juvenile justice system — highlighting abuses such as excessive force, youth injury, and lack of treatment.
New York State has more than 1,000 youth in its juvenile justice facilities and places more with non-profit agencies. Many have committed serious crimes, and many are themselves victims of trauma, abuse and neglect and have mental health and substance abuse issues. Some have parents who can’t provide a safe and stable home, but most have parents who do their best but don’t know how to supervise and nurture their children.
The good news is that some non-profit agencies provide care that changes youths’ lives. Finally today we know which programs and interventions work to reduce institutionalization, arrest and rearrest, and to keep youth in school. The landmark University of Colorado at Boulder Blueprints for the Prevention of Violence Study identified these effective or evidence-based programs. Several providers in New York state have installed these programs, and the results are clear.
For instance, 91 percent of at-risk adolescents participating in one of those evidence-based programs, Functional Family Therapy, still lived safely at home — not rearrested or deinstitutionalized — one full year after treatment, according to a Monroe County study. A follow-up study of youth placed in another evidence-based program, Multi-Dimensional Treatment Foster Care, in the Bronx, as an alternative to being sent to a state juvenile facility, tracked 24 graduates 24 to 40 months after discharge. All but one had not been replaced or rearrested and were in school or employed. This contrasts to the state’s estimate that 80 percent of those leaving its facilities are rearrested.
We can do three things to improve outcomes for youth in our juvenile justice system:
First, work to keep youth safely living with their family in the community whenever possible. Many youth only polish their delinquency in state facilities. Eighty percent are rearrested after discharge. Alternatively, working with them and their families through programs like Functional Family Therapy and Multisystemic Therapy produces much better outcomes.
Second, when youth must be placed in out-of-home care, keep them in a community setting whenever possible. Multi-Dimensional Treatment Foster Care places youths in the homes families that work with the kids using a tested behavioral program. The program also provides intensive individual therapy and skills building with the youths as well as intensive family therapy with their birth families.
Third, when youth cannot be kept in a community setting, properly constructed and operated programs can provide effective and respectful care. Small settings encourage growth more effectively than massing hundreds of youths together. Working to involve the youth and their families as part of the team while providing weekly individual, group, and family therapy with mental health professionals help the children return to the community without returning to old behaviors.
Working to help youths develop their own conflict management plans in which they identify their triggers and map strategies where they can learn to manage their own behaviors and training staff to deescalate situations have virtually eliminate physical restraints in many programs.
It is possible to provide care that changes youth’s lives while respecting their rights and safety if providers are committed to programs that are tested for effectiveness with a commitment to staff training and support.
If we write-off the children in today’s juvenile justice system, who will be tomorrow’s citizens?
Submitted by Edward Myers Hayes, the chief executive officer of Cayuga Home for Children. He is also president of the Association for the Advancement of Evidence-Based Practice – a collection of providers, administrators, policy makers and researchers committed to insuring at-risk families are served by programs that have demonstrated effectiveness.