Forty years of evidence shows that enlisting families as partners in juvenile justice rehabilitation efforts results in better public safety outcomes, according to a recent report by the Children and Family Justice Center at Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law Bluhm Legal Clinic.  The report, titled “Parents as Partners: Family Connection and Youth Incarceration,” is part of a series from the Center. A multi-year research endeavor, which included interviews with a wide variety of policymakers, a survey of over 150 stakeholders, the collection and analysis of data about the state’s justice system, and an extensive review of academic and practitioner research, informed the full series.

This second installment describes the challenges facing Illinois parents and caregivers when young people become justice-involved. While its recommendations are primarily designed for juvenile justice systems and policy makers, they can also be beneficial for anyone working with acutely high-risk youth and their families.  In particular, the report gives insights to help providers serve youth and families more thoughtfully, either during incarceration or back in their homes and communities.

Insights and Recommendations

  • Parent Support Groups: Many families feel isolated, stigmatized, or labeled as “bad parents” when their youth become involved in the juvenile justice system.  The report recommends peer support groups to help caregivers exchange ideas to help navigate systems, advocate for their children, and alleviate the burden.
  • Facilitate Visits and Calls: A 2013 evaluation measuring how increased family contact affected incarcerated youth suggested a relationship between weekly visits, good behavior, and improved school performance.  Unfortunately, many families often struggle to visit youth in juvenile prisons – transportation, child and elder care, and taking time off work register as top concerns.  The Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice Department (IDJJ) has been taking steps to encourage more family connections, including reducing the cost of phone calls to juvenile facilities, adding weekend and evening visiting hours, and hiring family engagement staff.  Service providers who encourage families to stay connected and assist them in accessing these resources can make a difference with incarcerated youth.
  • Help Rebuild Connections: 85% of youth exiting the Illinois juvenile prisons are released to family or family-equivalent homes.  For those youth who did not have consistent relationships with family during their incarceration period, it is especially important to help foster and strengthen family bonds upon their release.  Programs who work with both youth and caregivers have an especially ripe opportunity to support positive environments for recently released young people.

Learn more in the full report: Parents as Partners: Family Connection and Youth Incarceration