Judge Dorene Allen researched her options and decided to try MST
"You want to have children rehabilitate to the point that if they move next to you, your grandchildren will be safe." This is the simple, yet powerful advice Judge Dorene Allen, presiding probate and juvenile court judge for Midland County, Mich., has for people selecting programs for juveniles in the justice system.
At one point, the services offered in her county were not meeting that standard. Judge Allen was not "satisfied spending time, energy and money for no results. That’s depressing to the judge and community."
Judge Allen tasked a trusted person on her staff to research best practices. According to her, this person was, and remains, crucial. "Judges are not trained in this area. So, we have to rely on people we work with." Together, they reached the conclusion that their first investment would be in Multisystemic Therapy (MST) and MST for Problem Sexual Behavior (MST-PSB). Operations began in 2008.
Early in the process, Judge Allen and the researcher noted that residential placements were costing a lot of money and not getting the desired outcomes. She held a summit and by personally signing invitations, was able to gather more than 200 people for two days. That meeting included experts on the community’s problems and funders from foundations. The discussion included the need to shift the focus from a punitive mindset to one of rehabilitation. Judge Allen humanized the youths in the system by explaining that many of them were also victims. She also pointed out that the funder receives 50-percent reimbursement from the state, and MST-PSB, as a community-based treatment, would keep the funds in the community as opposed to sending the juveniles away to a residential treatment. Additionally, on top of keeping the funds and jobs local, this approach created more accountability from the service providers and more direct contact with the youth and family.
MST outcome? Excellent
The results are outstanding. Since implementing MST-PSB, the reduction in delinquency, improved family functioning and cost savings have been tremendous. The average saving per youth was $198,216 with total savings in the millions. In 2015, Midland County had only one juvenile in residential placement outside the county compared to 25 just 10 years ago. Additionally, Judge Allen "started tracking siblings because I wasn’t getting any after MST was implemented." She found that after the community treatment started, siblings were coming into court at just 2 to 3 percent of the cases as opposed to 15 percent in 2004. "I have fewer cases and am not spending as much. You treat the whole family, so the investment pays off exponentially." Consequently, Midland County started other evidence-based programs, 15 total, and the delinquency rate fell 81 percent since 1998. In 2015, the court came in under budget by $483,176, making a total of $4,695,187 savings since 2008.
Judge Allen suggests that people considering evidence-based practices "find other people that have done it, know the community and cast the net at what works. You should also have a researcher to synthesize the data and prove it in a succinct manner." It’s important if you want your future young neighbors to be law-abiding, well-adjusted assets to the community.