A Revolving Door of Youth Arrests Had to Stop

Posted by Jessica Crowe, Tides Family Services

Jun 1, 2017 8:15:00 AM

An MST team turned the analytic process on themselves to solve their revolving youth arrest rate

Ever felt stuck? We have. For about two years. We at Tides Family Services were struggling with how to best support our youth and how to help them keep out of trouble with the law. Our youth were getting arrested for various reasons, some with lesser charges than others. It was difficult to gauge the reasons why and where to start. It felt like we were doing the same assessment over and over, and ultimately, getting the same results.revolving youth arrest rates.jpg

Albert Einstein said, “If I were given one hour to save the world, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute solving it.” Our team took to heart that we needed to ensure we started with a well defined problem and then support our families to be the solution.  

This is exactly what is unique about Multisytemic Therapy (MST) and we worked very hard to activate the analytical process from day one of treatment. Once a history of arrests or high risk referral behaviors were identified by the family and/or the referral source, we started doing immediate planning with the family in that moment, in that same session. Instead of doing therapy on families, we made an explicit commitment to do it with families—every step of the way. Our team increased acting with urgency and intensity with families to ensure we got off to a great start.

Assessment and planning with the family is key

Assessment was the key to fully understanding the behavior. The relationship between the youth and his or her family, and the systems surrounding the youth was critical. We worked to embed the MST principles into our adherent practices. Specifically, we worked to ensure that we were really working with the family. What works for one family may not work for another. So, we developed our plans based on the family’s needs—using their words—using their strengths—using their plans. 

  • We practiced with the caregivers and the youth
  • We planned for potential barriers. 
  • We came up with plans to address the barriers
  • We did everything with the family

We made sure everyone involved felt confident and comfortable with the plan. Developing comprehensive strategies with families within the first two weeks of MST changed our outcomes, decreased our youth’s percent of new arrests during treatment, and increased our overall adherence to the model.

Action plans are living documents

The MST therapists and families review our action plans every week, highlighting what is working and what may not have worked as well as we had hoped. And then, we make the necessary adjustments in the moment. We continuously evaluate, stay present focused and strength-based to ensure we are best supporting our youth and families every day. 

One of the caregivers said to her MST therapist, “We were involved together. We did our sessions, had both my son and myself together...whenever you call, they are there.”

We have been able to increase our percentage of youth with no new arrests by 46 percent over the past year. 

  • 0% of our youth have been placed out of home since September of 2015 (Target =<10%.) 
  • 0% of our families have closed  due to lack of engagement in more than five years (Target rate =<5%.)

During the past six months, 100 percent of families had 100 percent instrumental outcomes.* Also, in the past six months, 100 percent of our youth were in school or working at the time of we closed the case.

Our MST therapists have also significantly improved their skills within the past six months. Therapists have increased their adherence to MST by 17 percent. As we have learned across many MST research studies “adherence matters” to achieve positive outcomes for youth and families.

Our team has been working so hard. And our families have been working even harder. None of this positive change would be possible without the families’ involvement. 

Jessica Crowe is the Coordinator of Evidence-Based Programming and Program Evaluation at Tides Family Services in Rhode Island.

To learn more about what makes MST an effective intervention, download this white paper.

Download Now

*Instrumental outcomes include: 

  • Percent with parenting skills necessary to handle future problems
  • Percent with improved family relations
  • Percent with improved network of supports 
  • Percent with success in educational/vocational setting
  • Percent of youth involved with prosocial peers/activities
  • Percent of cases where changes have been sustained



Topics: Reduce Serious Offending

Subscribe to Blog

Posts by Topic

see all