Why Evidence-Based Family Therapy is More Effective Than Youth Incarceration

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<span id="hs_cos_wrapper_name" class="hs_cos_wrapper hs_cos_wrapper_meta_field hs_cos_wrapper_type_text" style="" data-hs-cos-general-type="meta_field" data-hs-cos-type="text" >Why Evidence-Based Family Therapy is More Effective Than Youth Incarceration</span>

While there has been a significant decrease in the number of youth incarcerated over the years, nearly a third of juvenile arrests still lead to detention placement. Of those youth, 57% are detained for non-violent offenses.

A Crime and Delinquency study found that adjudicating youth to facilities, even if only for the period of time before a trial, increases their odds of committing a future felony by 33% and a misdemeanor by 11%.

Youth need a solution that not only decreases the likelihood of reoffence but considers the risk factors for maladaptive behavior and developmental needs. Evidence-based family therapy proves to be one of the most powerful tools for helping at-risk youth avoid entering the justice system.

Growing Need for Youth Incarceration Alternatives

Research finds youth incarceration to have the following results, regardless of the amount of time served:

  • Continued justice system involvement. Young people who are placed into pretrial confinement typically see formal charges and placement in correctional facilities while those who wait for trial at home do not. This is true even when the arrests are for similar crimes.
  • Health concerns. Justice-involved youth who are ordered to reside in detention facilities are more likely to experience exacerbated mental health concerns than adolescents who are not detained. The feeling of confinement and close supervision can be especially difficult for children with a history of serious mental health issues and trauma or abuse.
  • Poor academic performance. Although juvenile detention centers offer education to school-aged children, the resources can be misaligned from their regular lessons. As a result, youth in a correctional setting are less likely to graduate.
  • Unfair to certain demographics. Youth of color are more likely to be incarcerated than their white counterparts.

Alternatively, community programs, like evidence-based family therapy, can decrease recidivism rates, promote mental health, help children stay in school and get better grades, and make progress in achieving race equity for members of the juvenile justice system.

8 Community-Based Methods That Help Assist Youth and Families

Community-based programs and the juvenile justice system work together to create and implement services that are beneficial for at-risk youth. It begins with judges redirecting justice-involved teens to resources outside of the justice system, like Functional Family Therapy (FFT) providers.

Once a judge offers an alternative, collaborative partners, including juvenile justice professionals, community leaders, and treatment providers, work to help at-risk youth and their families overcome barriers and heal. These efforts are focused on behavioral reform solutions that exclude incarceration.

The NCJFCJ gives eight methods for implementing community-based alternatives to secure confinement:

  • Data. Data-informed policies and services help judicial and community leaders understand program outcomes.
  • Education and training. Ongoing education and training for leaders within the justice system will contribute to rulings that consider race equity, youth development, safety, past traumas, victims, families, and the community.
  • Trauma-informed and developmentally appropriate tools for screening, assessment, and services. Evidence-based tools help provide customized support to youth and their families.
  • Restorative justice. Instead of punishing young people for their maladaptive behavior, restorative justice aims to help at-risk teens, families, victims, and community members learn from mistakes and heal together.
  • Mentoring from credible messengers. Quality role models with similar life experiences can help struggling young people overcome barriers and reach their goals.
  • Incentives and graduated sanctions. Meaningful incentives can encourage positive behavior and graduated sanctions (incremental appropriate responses to adverse actions) hold youth responsible for undesirable behavior.
  • Motivational interviewing skills. Motivational Interviewing helps judicial leaders and community partners help young people and their family find motivation and commitment to change.
  • Therapeutic supports. Evidence-based family therapy, like FFT, helps caregivers create a structured, safe home environment where children are understood and given the tools to thrive.

The Power of Evidence-Based Family Therapy

Functional Family Therapy is an evidence-based family therapy program that is proven to work with at-risk youth and their caregivers. FFT uses recorded data to address risk and protective factors for referred youth and their families. The largest randomized trial of FFT for adolescents found that this therapeutic avenue results in a 34.9% reduction in felony crimes, a 30% reduction in violent crimes, and a 21.1% decrease in misdemeanor offenses.

Furthermore, FFT LLC research finds that of teens who participated in FFT treatment 77% have no new offenses within 18 months of referral, 89% have no drug charges 18 months post-referral, and 95% attend work or school when treatment concludes.

Replacing justice system involvement with FFT and other evidence-based community services can help youth and their families discover healthy coping mechanisms, find the motivation to change, and travel down a path that leads to positive outcomes.

Perhaps most importantly, these programs help young people stay out of federal detention centers and remain at home and in school where they belong.

FFT LLC brings Functional Family Therapy to over 40,000 families a year across the globe that are at risk of involvement in the justice and child welfare systems and/or gangs. To maintain positive outcomes, FFT LLC provides clinical oversight and ongoing research to ensure that all FFT providers adhere to evidence-based practice standards. Contact us for more information about our evidence-based youth and family counseling services.