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Working with Families


According to the JDTC Guidelines, under Guidelines 1.5, “JDTCs should be deliberate about engaging parents or guardians throughout the court process, which includes addressing the specific barriers to their full engagement.” This is the guideline; however, JDTC teams should operationalize this recommendation so that working with and engaging families is an intentional aspect of the program. Use the tips, questions, answers, and resources found here to effectively engage and work with families to make certain that youth are successful.  

Tips for Implementation and Enhancement  

  • Ensure that the team is engaging families with lived experiences to assist the team in understanding if the current policies and procedures in place are family-friendly by using Strategies for Engaging Youth and Families with Lived Experiences to consider the families’ role in system change or improvement. 
  • Review current written documentation given to families that detail the program, rules, and procedures to determine accessibility. For example: 
    • Provide information in other languages to accommodate English as a second language speakers. 
    • Ensure that the readability is at a fifth-grade reading level, which is the recommended level of understanding for court users.
    • Limit the amount of information provided at one time and ensure it is relevant to the families so that families aren’t overwhelmed by internal team procedures and processes (e.g., referral/entry process). Consider building in separate orientations for each phase of the program. Use the worksheet entitled “Design an orientation for youth and families” on pages 170-173 of Starting a Juvenile Drug Court: A Planning Guide to develop a comprehensive orientation that engages families. 
  • Engage families during court hearings by making the focus of the hearing itself therapeutic and meaningful; avoid or minimize a focus on legal language and process that the family may not understand or may find alienating to one. Consider the short-term and long-term solutions suggested in “The Sin of the Missed Opportunity to Engage Participants – The Court Hearing” found in the Seven Deadly Sins Series: Juvenile Drug Court Practices that Can Lead to Poor Outcomes (page 4), which can help the team rethink judicial interactions, as well as the court atmosphere. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

How can the JDTC team engage reluctant families or families that don’t see the value of intensive therapeutic services? 

  • First, present a case study to the full JDTC team as an example of a parent who is very frustrated with her son and is reluctant to participate in the JDTC, even though the services would be beneficial – The case study “Family Engagement” can be found in Practical Tips to Help Juvenile Drug Treatment Court Teams Implement the JDTC Guidelines (pages 30-32). 
  • Second, as a team, discuss the solution-focused tips that are included directly after the case study and create an action plan to implement 2-3 tips that will lead to increased family engagement. 

How can a JDTC team assess current practices to ensure that families are deliberately engaged in the process?  

As a team, use the “Family Engagement Practices Self-Assessment Tool” found in Engage, Involve, Empower: Family Engagement in Juvenile Drug Treatment Courts on pages 16-20. The key measures found in the tool provide an understanding of effective practice along a scale, which can then help the team identify gaps and plan enhancements or improvements.