When youth become incarcerated in juvenile correctional facilities, their connections with their communities are virtually severed. Transitioning youth from these facilities back into their home communities is, therefore, a tremendous challenge. Communities must provide for the successful reintegration of adjudicated young people, while ensuring the safety and well-being of community members. This article describes a process taking place in Oregon to provide this support and safety by developing, implementing, and evaluating coordinated transition practices for youth returning to their communities from juvenile correctional facilities.
Moving Back to the Community
Most adjudicated young people face multiple social, academic, socioeconomic, and environmental constraints that present roadblocks to transitioning successfully to adulthood. These youth ended up in the deep end of the juvenile justice system in part due to their greatly limited ability to make proactive decisions that serve them in positive ways. The restrictive setting of the juvenile correctional center is designed to control their behavior through rules that determine their daily activities and decisions. This environment certainly limits their ability to make harmful choices, but it does not develop their ability to make good choices, either.
When it is time to leave the facility and return to a less restrictive setting, the change can be dramatic, stressful, frightening, and abrupt. Many youth return to the community with no official monitoring and support in place. While many others remain under the supervision of their parole officers, even this support can often be insufficient. Because of large case loads and limited training in how to effectively coordinate services for youth, many parole officers are ill-equipped to provide the appropriate monitoring and support that individual youth may require. In addition, systems harriers often make it difficult for youth to become immediately involved in structured activities when they return to the community. Delays in enrollment in educational or vocational programs, for example, prevent timely participation in structured and meaningful activities – much needed after the institutional regiiiien. The inability to participate in these activities can present opportunities for engaging in behaviors that may lead to recidivism.
The Research Base of the Oregon Initiative
Overcoming these roadblocks to develop effective treatment and support strategies for adjudicated adolescents is extremely difficult. The reasons for this difficulty stem from the factors that often cause interventions in general to fail:
They do not address the multiple determinants of antisocial behavior
They are inaccessible (e.g., office-based)
They disregard factors that contribute to a youth's behaviors (e.g., out-of-home placement) (Borduin, 1994)
Increasingly, professionals across disciplines and youth and parent advocacy organizations agree that "to be effective, interventions must address the multiple causes of antisocial behavior and be delivered with ecological validity" (Borduin, 1994, p. 21).
In order to do this, however, professionals and community members have had to shift away from the categorical and fragmented approaches to "treating" adjudicated youth, in which each system (educational, social service, mental health, juvenile justice) takes a one-dimensional approach to addressing complex, multiple, and interrelated needs (Lehman. Clark. Bullis. Rinkin. & Castellanos. in press; Leone, 1990; Nelson, Rutherford, & Wolford, 1996). The alternative is an ecological orientation, which recognizes that an individual’s problems and solutions to them occur within the context of the larger social networks (Bronfenbrenner, 1979). Therefore, to increase the chances that adjudicated youth will succeed in their communities, the sources of support available there to each youth must be identified.
The wraparound approach to service delivery (VanDenberg & Graelish, 1996), which is based upon this type of ecological orientation, is promising and applicable to the successful reintegration of adjudicated youth back to the community. Evaluations of programs implementing a wraparound type of process, such as the Alaska Youth Initiative (Burchard, Burchard, Sewell, & VanDenberg, 1993), Kentucky IMPACT (Illback, 1993; Illback & Neill, 1995) and the Ventura Planning Model (Jordan & Ichinose, 1992) show positive community outcomes for youth who received systematic individualized support, coordinated by a well-trained and coached service coordinator. The Oregon Initiative is founded on this type of wraparound process as described by VanDenberg and Graelish for supporting adolescents and young adults (Lehman et al., in press).
Best Wraparound Practices Defined
"Wraparound is a philosophy and overall approach which mandates that services be tailored to the specific needs of all children and families, even when services are delivered as part of a categorical service program" (VanDenberg & Graclish, 1996, p. 10). In such an approach, the essential direct service provider is a service coordinator, who must know and be able to access the resources available in the community, to develop relationships with youth and families, and to coordinate services across boundaries, rather than being linked to a specific discipline or agency. The role of the resource coordinator encompasses both direct support for the individual youth and family and administrative functions.
Direct support for the individual youth and family. The resource coordinator models a family-centered approach and ensures that each individual child receives unconditional care. Unconditional care, the cornerstone of Stroul and Friedman's system of care model (1986) for children with serious emotional disturbance, means that if the needs of the child and family change, the child and family will not be rejected from the “program." Instead, the services must change to match changing needs.
The resource coordinator identifies these needs by conducting an assessment with the youth and family and identifying the strengths of each individual. The coordinator finds out from the youth and family who the key players are in their lives and how they may be able to provide support that matches the areas of need. The resource coordinator then forms the youth support team, conducts the first team meeting, and facilitates the development of an individualized service and support plan, including a crisis plan. (See article by Lucille Eber, Volume I, Issue 2, and article by John VanDenberg and E. Mary Graelish in Volume 1, Issue 3, for more information.)
Unlike traditional service delivery efforts, the resource coordinator is expected to evaluate the effectiveness of the existing categorical services. When the type of support needed does not exist, the resource coordinator develops creative support services that match the need. When the youth team determines that the wraparound process is no longer needed, the resource coordinator facilitates the development of a plan for transitioning to a more appropriate level of support.
Administrative functions. The resource coordinator is also responsible for three essential administrative functions:
1. Identifying existing categorical services. The resource coordinator must proactively seek new resources and remain informed about changes in existing resources.
2. Ensuring appropriate training. As training needs for team members are identified, the resource coordinator must arrange for effective and timely training.
3. Managing flexible funds by working in partnership with fiscal agents. The wraparound process relies on flexible funds to ensure that the individual needs of the youth and family are met. Flexible funds are interagency pooled dollars, to be used as a last resort when an individual or family needs short-term support.
Such flexible and non-categorical funding combined with unconditional support is rarely present within communities. This approach requires long-term effort and a commitment to systemic change.
Components of the Oregon Transition Support
The transition support initiative is based on the wraparound process described above and is committed to such systemic change. The initiative is carried out by individuals at three different levels: the state, the juvenile facility, and the community.
State-level component. A statewide Coordinated Information and Implementation Team (CIIT) functions as the pivotal point for synthesizing and disseminating information and is also responsible for developing procedures at the state level and making recommendations to local communities about how to eliminate or reduce barriers to individualized transition support. For example, the CIIT may submit a proposal to the Oregon Department of Education and the Oregon Youth Authority to share fiscal and/or human resources that would enable individuals to he designated as service coordinators. The proposal might include providing the service coordinators with the authority and autonomy to hold members of a youth's support team accountable for the support and monitoring needed to increase his or her chances for successful transition.
Juvenile facility component. The juvenile correctional facility develops and implements a transition curriculum for students within the institution's school programs, and develops individualized "person-centered" transition planning (Flannery, Slovic, & McLean, 1994; O“Brien & Lovett, 1992), combined with a wraparound approach for developing and implementing the support plan (VanDenberg & Graelish, 1996). Each youth's educational and residential treatment activities are integrated and linked with the community support network as part of the transition/reintegration process.
Community component. Community development efforts are currently occurring in Oregon in two ways. First, eight community planning teams are working within localities across the state. Team activities began during week-long trainings that culminated with the development of community action plans. A consultant was assigned to each team to provide ongoing technical assistance and training. Networking opportunities are currently provided or being explored through quarterly meetings, teleconferencing, and Internet conferencing.
Second, a pilot study is being conducted with three communities to examine the feasibility of implementing effective, community-driven transition/reintegration procedures for adjudicated youth. Knowledge gained from these pilot studies will be utilized to inform transition/ reintegration efforts when five new regional juvenile correctional facilities begin operating this fall.
Findings of the Pilot Study
Preliminary findings from survey and focus group data reveal common barriers to providing such coordinated individualized transition support, both within organizations and between organizations. These barriers can be subdivided into systems characteristics and direct service characteristics (see below).
Barriers to Coordinated, Community-Based Transition Services for Adjudicated Youth
State legislation and policies
are not integrative (i.e., educational reform and juvenile
corrections reform maintain separate policies and procedures for
planning individual programs for youth).
Intra-agency cultures, policies,
and procedures continue to encourage a single-dimensional,
categorical orientation to providing services and support. There
appears to be little incentive for professionals to work
collaboratively. For example, schools tend to focus on
educational outcomes, while juvenile services focus on public
safety and sanctions, and drug and alcohol programs focus on
"treatmenf” contingent on youth attending appointments in office
Categorical services continue to
fit youth into programs rather than wrapping support around the
Agencies do not tend to enter
into inter-agency agreements to share human and fiscal
Allocation of federal and state
funding is based on categorical funding formulas.
– Contracts are awarded to private treatment services based on single-dimensional thinking, without encouraging or requiring collaboration across systems and incentives to implement approaches within the natural environment (such as youth outreach approaches).
|Direct service barriers:|
– Categorical orientation to understanding and responding to troubled youth remains prevalent.
– Professional jargon understood mostly by professionals within the same discipline impedes communication across disciplines and with youth, parents, and community members.
– Many direct service providers, especially parole and probation personnel, perceive that they are solely responsible for all aspects of support and monitoring of youth on their caseload. This perception contributes to a professional burnout, the belief that no one understands the difficulty of their jobs, and subsequent isolation from a youth’s current or potential formal and informal support networks.
– Professionals have limited knowledge of the role of other disciplines and of informal community resources that might provide added support for monitoring and mentoring youth.
– Negative perceptions of parents and families of troubled youth contribute to an "us and them" attitude rather than to working partnerships.
– Professionals lack information and understanding of the characteristics of youth who become incarcerated. For example. parole and probation officers appear to have limited knowledge of special education and mental health needs of many youth who are incarcerated, while educators appear to have very limited expertise in how to address the behavioral and emotional needs of youth with antisocial behavior.
However, the most significant barrier to providing a coordinated individualized planning and ongoing support relates to the team process. Theoretically, when a young person transitions from a correctional facility to the community, a team consisting of the child, parent or guardian, education representative, parole officer, and additional members of the youth's support network come together to develop a transition plan. Preliminary data suggest this process may take place for special education students but does not always take place for non-special education students. Even for special education students, professionals appear to exclude the youth and parents as full partners in the process. All too often, there is little or no follow-up by the assigned service coordinator to monitor youth and team member activities. Within the current system, the service coordinator appears to lack the authority and autonomy to hold team members accountable for fulfilling their assigned tasks and for facilitating changes in the youth's plan when appropriate.
Citizens in Oregon and across the country have responded to increased juvenile crime by supporting legislation that provides short-term solutions to complicated, long-term problems. While the youth who are placed in juvenile correctional facilities have multiple and complex needs, the majority of them will return to their communities. Federal, state, and local policy makers and service providers recognize the urgent need for effective transition/reintegration efforts that provide individualized support, but few communities have demonstrated necessary commitment and ownership.
Educators and service providers in Oregon are attempting to reverse this trend. Communities have committed to sharing information and developing and implementing transition/reintegration strategies on a case by case basis. For youth with multiple needs who are incarcerated in our juvenile correctional facilities, such an individualized process for initial transition and ongoing support may mean the difference between re-offending and becoming a contributing member of the community.
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This feature: Lehman, C. (1997) Oregon initiative for reintegrating adjudicated youth. Reaching Today's Youth (2) 1, pp. 65-68