A Helpful Guide on Choosing Programs for Juvenile Offenders

Posted by Lori Moore

Aug 9, 2016 12:30:00 PM

Long-time MST therapist has suggestions for communities looking for juvenile offender services

When I became an MST therapist more than 16-and-a-half years ago, I met with a county juvenile probation officer to discuss referrals being made to our program. She was a lovely person with a passion for the work she was doing in the juvenile-justice field. As a probation officer, she was responsible for 40 to 50 cases and knew every one of those young people and their families personally. She believed in the Multisystemic Therapy mission of keeping youth at home, in school and out of trouble with the law as keys to their success.

But how to do that successfully for her was still a question to be answered.

Part of her job, as she described it, was to go into the homes and “try and counsel” the youth and their families. She shared with me that she didn’t have a background in counseling, but that she didn’t think she “harmed them” by providing these services. However, she was extremely happy that a program like MST was now available in her community and was going to be readily available to the many juvenile offenders that she and other probation officers were seeing entering the court system.

Let’s put this in perspective. This was in the late 1990s when incarcerating young people for status offenses was common practice. Moving toward a system that provided the right service for the right youth for the right length of time was only a dream. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, we were just learning about evidence-based practices and how they could be taken from the university to the local communities. It was an exciting time of growth for us all in the juvenile-justice field.

Fast forward

Fast-forward to 2016 when many juvenile-court systems and Children, Youth and Family Services (DCYF) have numerous choices for anti-social youth. From residential programs, academies, locked detentions facilities, foster care, home-grown community-based services, wraparound services, evidence-based treatment models—the list goes on and on.

Sometimes, these services are not offered in the youth’s home area. The community stakeholders have the choice of sending the youth out of the county, or even out of state, far from the young person’s family.

Despite the enormous number of choices, communities are still faced with the same questions. How do we successfully keep youth safely at home, in school and out of trouble with the law? How do we make the right decision about which services to offer which youth? How do we fund getting these services in our community? And then an even harder question, once we fund their start-up, how do we find sustainable funding?

With so many different programs available, it’s not easy making the right choice. Where do you get direction? 

Communities need to seek help and support in making the best decisions for services provided for their youth.

The right service, for the right youth, for the right length of time (dosage)

At the 2016 Blueprints Conference, held in Denver, Colo., Dr. Delbert Elliott provided a four-point plan that helps communities make these critical decisions.

  1. Stop using programs that do not work or are harmful.
  2. Select programs supported by rigorous experimentation, what he calls “Experimentally Proven Programs” (EPP) like MST, when they are available and if they fit the needs.
  3. If an EPP is not available, then use the best available evidence to implement a treatment.
  4. Evaluate all non-EPPs.

Communities can also consult with the Blueprints for Health Youth Development Website to help guide these critical decisions.  

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

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Topics: Juvenile Justice Reform