In Texas, parents are partners in juvenile justice

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Rebecca Garza is Family Liaison Coordinator for the Texas Juvenile Justice Department.

In a recent survey of youth at a Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD) facility, the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition heard from youth that staying connected to their families is more difficult at state facilities as compared to county detention centers, and that they would like more contact with their families. In my role as the TJJD family liaison coordinator, I have been working on several ways to establish and enhance family partnerships.

In 2007, parents, youth, advocacy groups, and agency staff worked together to create the Parents’ Bill of Rights, which establishes that “parents are partners with correctional staff, educators, and treatment providers in their child’s rehabilitation and are encouraged and assisted to actively participate in the design and implementation of their child’s treatment, from intake to discharge.”

With the Bills of Rights as its guide, TJJD offers a number of opportunities for families to learn about the agency, participate in youth’s treatment, and spend time together:

  • Parents are invited to participate in person or by phone in monthly meetings to discuss the youth’s progress in education, behavior, and treatment.
  • Monthly Family Orientation sessions help families learn how to navigate the system.
  • Family Seminars keep families informed about agency changes.
  • Open houses allow families to meet staff and tour the school, dorms, and other buildings.
  • Facilities have flexible visiting times and frequent phone calls.
  • Quarterly family days encourage families to participate in activities including cook-outs, board games, photo sessions, and celebratory dinners.

TJJD also attends to families’ needs in preparation for the youth’s return home and during that transition period:

  • Contract providers deliver home-based intervention services to families who have youth transitioning home.
  • Youth in TJJD facilities participate in family intervention sessions by video conferencing or web cams.
  • Nonprofit Community Resource Councils provide travel subsidies to families who need financial assistance to visit their children.

TJJD’s staff takes our promise to partner with parents seriously and are committed to creating meaningful ways to inform, involve, and engage parents in their child’s rehabilitation. We are happy to be a part of Vera’s initiative to develop family engagement standards for juvenile justice that can help other states enhance their focus on family. What types of family engagement activities are working well in your jurisdiction?

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