Working Together as a Team to Build Family Engagement

Objective 3: Provide a JDTC process that engages the full JDTC team and follows procedures fairly.

Written by Jessica Pearce, Site Manager, National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges

In the research upon which the Juvenile Drug Treatment Court Guidelines (Guidelines) are based, one thing is clear – family is key. While family engagement is a running theme, Guideline 3.1 outlines the importance of family in a variety of contexts: “JDTCs should work collaboratively with parents and guardians throughout the court process to encourage active participation in (a) regular court hearings, (b) supervision and discipline of their children in the home and community, and (c) treatment programs.”

You should think about family in three domains –­­ information and enforcement of rules, support of the youth in his or her efforts to make changes, and services provided to each family. Team members should work together to determine what the team wants and needs from families in each of these areas. Define family broadly to include not only biological family, but also family as defined by the youth. Consider “Jared” – a youth in your JDTC. He is currently living with his Aunt Julie because of challenges with his parents and he identifies Meagan, his girlfriend, as his biggest source of support. Consider working with Aunt Julie for information and enforcement of rules and with Megan for providing support to Jared (perhaps allowing her to attend court sessions and court activities).  And finally, because of the challenges with his parents, consider offering family therapy. This individualized approach allows team members to engage with the people who are important in your client’s life.

Short-Term Actions

1)    Review your JDTC’s current family requirements. Many JDTCs have family requirements that include parental participation at court hearings, enforcement of curfew, reporting on youth behavior, etc. In your review, determine 1) is this requirement necessary and 2) is it specific. Many courts require parents/guardians/caregivers to attend each court hearing but this can be a real barrier to engagement, particularly for working parents. Discuss if this requirement is necessary and what accommodations you might be willing to make for parents/guardians/caregivers who cannot attend every session. Once you’ve made your determinations about participation and accommodations, include this information in your policy and make sure parents are aware of it.  Create checklists for parents/guardians/caregivers so they are aware of your requirements and informational needs for each phase of the program.

2)    Regularly survey your families. Too often families don’t feel like they have a voice in the JDTC process. A survey can help you give them a voice and can help you determine their understanding of program requirements, perceptions of the program, and needs they might have.

3)    Incentivize parent/guardian/caregiver participation. Consider providing incentives to parents/guardians/caregivers to do what you need them to do. For example, if they need to complete an assessment in order for the youth to be admitted to the program, offer an incentive when the assessment is done.

Long-Term Actions

Develop family-based treatment and services. Family therapy, like Functional Family Therapy, can be the most effective treatment for youth and families participating in your JDTC. If your program does not currently have family therapy available, consider making it a long-term goal to provide family therapy. In addition, use information from your surveys to identify family needs and develop community partnerships to meet those needs.

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