Risk and Needs

On October 9, 2014, the Vera Institute of Justice convened its second juvenile justice briefing titled Examining the First Point of Contact: Youth Risk and Needs Assessment Tools. This briefing is part of a larger Vera series, titled The State of Juvenile Justice: A National Conversation About Research, Results and Reform.

Watch a video of the event.

The panelists included Dr. Gina Vincent, associate professor and director of translational law & psychiatry research at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, Kate Rhudy, project manager with the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and Cathy Burgos, division director of operations at the Miami-Dade County Juvenile Services Department. These three experts shared research supporting the use of risk and needs assessments, opportunities for law enforcement collaboration, and local approaches to serving youth and families involved in juvenile justice, which should inform the discussion of how systems can effectively respond to at-risk youth.

Dr. Vincent spoke about the importance of risk assessment, and shared that matching services to a youth’s level of risk and needs lowers their chance of offending. A “risk assessment instrument” balances risks, needs, and responsivity (known as the “RNR” model) and allows enforcement officials to categorize whether an individual is likely to reoffend. Good risk assessments use both static (such as demographics) and dynamic risk factors (such as impulsivity, inconsistent discipline, and behavior).

Kate Rhudy discussed how law enforcement should use evidence-based research around risk assessment to minimize arrests. Ms. Rhudy explained how many law enforcement officials may not be aware of services for youth involved in juvenile justice in their own communities, or the research around risk assessment. The International Association of Chiefs of Police is working to put together a task force of police chiefs to empower other police chiefs to speak publicly to their peers about what works, and what does not, which can be especially helpful for police chiefs in more rural communities.

Cathy Burgos finished the panel presentation by describing how her agency works with youth involved in the juvenile justice system. She explained that when a child is arrested in Miami-Dade County, the child first comes to the Juvenile Services Department and is assessed by a licensed clinician. Children are evaluated according to their age group and their service needs in mental health, substance abuse, and for other needs with members of their family. She emphasized the importance of meeting a whole family’s needs by using the community’s other service providers, particularly when families may have difficulty complying with a plan. Ms. Burgos believed that foster care and mental health systems often do not talk to each other, but that it would be beneficial if they could communicate more effectively, like her own department strives to do. She also emphasized how law enforcement should be active participants. The Miami-Dade County Juvenile Services Department has served over 15,000 families and has seen 83% of those involved complete the program successfully. Additionally, the number of children referred under 12 has been reduced from 2,000 to 200, resulting in $33 million in savings to the government.