Guideposts for Success for Youth Involved in the Juvenile Corrections System

The Guideposts for Success are a framework to assist the multiple organizations that need to be involved to meet the needs and improve the transition outcomes of all youth including youth with disabilities and to create necessary community webs of support.

The Juvenile Justice Guideposts highlight specific experiences, supports, and services that are relevant to improving transition outcomes for youth with and without disabilities involved or at risk of becoming involved in the juvenile justice system within the framework of the Guideposts for Success. An increased understanding of the unique needs of this particular population of young people, combined with an enhanced level of coordination among the court and corrections systems, education, workforce, child welfare systems, and mental health systems can help decrease recidivism and increase the likelihood that these youth will become productive adult members of our society. This coordination is also a necessary precursor for the leveraging (“blending” or “braiding”) of resources among these partners.

The five Guidepost areas of focus are:

School-based preparatory experiences

In addition to the school-based preparatory experiences that all youth need, youth with and without disabilities involved in the juvenile justice system also need:

  • availability of quality educational, vocational, and GED programs;
  • access to additional academic and behavioral support that relies on research-based techniques;
  • teachers, administrators, and secure care professionals in juvenile correctional facilities that collaborate to promote youth access to a free and appropriate public education;
  • conditions in juvenile correctional facilities, and throughout the juvenile justice process that foster enrollment in education, alternative education, special education, vocational, pre-GED and GED programs, and post-secondary education based on youth needs and not on available programs;
  • placement in housing units and classrooms that take into consideration youth academic and behavioral needs, as well as placement of youth in classes with similar aged youth;
  • opportunity for youth to earn Carnegie units that transfer to public middle and high schools;
  • teachers who use content enhancements, strategy instruction, and contextualized learning opportunities to provide access to the general education curriculum;
  • juvenile correctional schools that are held accountable for providing a free and appropriate public education, meet Adequate Yearly Progress standards, and have a sufficient number of general and special education teachers who are also highly qualified and compensated at the same level as teachers in the local public schools;
  • educational settings that include universal, secondary, and tertiary proactive approaches to promoting positive student behavior, as well as counseling services and social skills training;
  • collaboration and planning among teachers, secure care staff, and mental health professionals to ensure that students’ emotional and behavioral needs are met and that appropriate strategies are used when addressing behaviors that are a manifestation of a student’s disability; and,
  • collaboration among general and special educators within the correctional facility, and with public schools concerning the youth’s education, behavior, and transition plan implementation.

Career Preparation & Work-based Learning Experiences

In addition to the career preparation and work-based learning experiences that all youth need, youth with and without disabilities involved in the juvenile justice system also need:

  • participation in comprehensive vocational programming that is consistent with the youth’s aptitude and interest and with high growth industries in the community to which they will return, as an approach to prevention and diversion from the juvenile justice system;
  • vocational education should include scope and sequence for a variety of courses and how they will be adapted to meet the unique needs of the setting and students. Scope and sequence provide a guide for both what students should learn and the order in which concepts should be presented;
  • vocational education should include formal assessment of both student learning and progress toward certification or license requirements in the vocation of study;
  • development of career pathways that include a list of courses, work experiences, post-secondary options, and career options;
  • access to employment and work-based experiences on and off facility grounds by collaborating with the community and businesses;
  • an advocate/job development specialist who can assist in making the youth more employable and provide or assist the youth in obtaining needed training about accessing resources after release, getting records sealed and expunged, and responding to employers’ questions about their previous law violations;
  • training in behavioral skills that may affect sustaining employment (e.g., anger management, accepting feedback, accepting directions);
  • access to a graduated release program that allows the youth to leave the facility during the day to complete supervised work experience; and,
  • access to technology to assist in career exploration and job simulation when partial release to work is not a possibility.

Youth Development & Leadership

In addition to the youth development and leadership opportunities that all youth need, youth with and without disabilities involved in the juvenile justice system need additional supports and services including transitional services to assist with reintegration into school, community, and the workforce, such as:

  • engagement in service other than community service (e.g., youth court) for youth who are diverted from the juvenile justice system;
  • a highly individualized transition plan that begins upon entry to a juvenile correctional facility and is developed with meaningful youth input;
  • the availability of a transition support model that considers the unique needs of youth involved in juvenile corrections and includes self-determination skills, competitive job placement, flexible educational opportunities, social skills instruction, and immediate service coordination of wrap-around services;
  • clear instruction concerning relevant laws, rights, and consequences throughout the juvenile justice process;
  • additional emphasis on self-empowerment through training in self-advocacy, self-esteem, self-reliance, self-determination, and self-sufficiency;
  • an understanding of risk-taking behaviors (and the relationship to their disabilities) and their consequences, such as substance abuse, teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, recidivism; and,
  • formal and informal connections to significant adult role models, peer mentors, and older youth who have transitioned from the juvenile justice system.

Connecting Activities

In addition to the connecting activities that all youth need, youth with and without disabilities involved in the juvenile justice system also need:

  • appropriate prevention services that include access to mental health and drug abuse treatment;
  • access to diversion programs, when appropriate, such as teen court and other community-based options;
  • advocates at each stage of the juvenile justice process to ensure that youth understand the processes;
  • support from individuals, programs and systems (e.g. mental health, education, vocational rehabilitation, social services) while confined and for at least one year after release;
  • alcohol and drug abuse treatment that extends for a minimum of one year post-release and includes family involvement, training in life skills and abstinence, and after care (e.g., self-help, support groups);
  • probation and parole officers that have time, knowledge, and resources to assist youth;
  • access to transition specialists who can collaborate with relevant professionals across systems
  • (e.g., parole, mental health, child welfare, vocational rehabilitation);
  • ongoing contact with and visits from public school and job development/placement professionals to maintain contact and support for re-entry; and,
  • a transitional exit program from the juvenile correctional facility (including day passes) that provides progressively increased involvement with public school and/or job placement.

Family Involvement & Supports

In addition to the family involvement and supports that all youth need, youth with and without disabilities involved in the juvenile justice system also need:

  • parents who are well-informed and can assist and advocate for them;
  • facilities and programs that are committed to engaging parents and families in prevention and rehabilitative services;
  • specific, ongoing opportunities for parent, family, and caring adult involvement, participation, and input at each stage in the juvenile justice process;
  • family and community involvement as delineated in Multi-Systemic Therapy (MST); and,
  • family-focused mental health treatment that also includes individual youth therapy, as well as behavioral and/or cognitive/behavioral interventions.

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