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Juvenile Services Looks to Improve Rates of Parental Involvement

by Cheryl Cadue last modified Jul 07, 2015 02:26 PM
KDOC examines ways to increase parental and family support to increase the likelihood of a juvenile offender's success upon release.

As with many juvenile offenders preparing to leave a correctional facility, Kansas Juvenile Correctional Complex (KJCC) Deputy Superintendent Megan Milner could see 20-year-old Jacob growing frustrated as he struggled to develop his release plan. 

However, unlike many juvenile offenders, Jacob had a basic source of support that far too many juvenile offenders lack – parental involvement. 

“He went from having an attitude of ‘I don’t have a say in any of this?’ to having an attitude of ‘thank you for your help,’” said Milner of Jacob’s release planning that included Jacob, his mother and correctional staff. 

Jacob, whose name has been changed to protect his privacy, is one of the nearly 400 juveniles who will be released from a Kansas juvenile correctional facility this year. For Milner, Jacob’s situation highlights the need for juvenile corrections to enhance parental engagement in the treatment and release planning of juveniles. 

Upon his release after serving two years for a sex-related offense, Jacob plans to build upon a water technology certification he earned during incarceration. He is now optimistic about his future that includes enrolling in a vocational education program at a Kansas community college while residing with his mother. 

“The main thing we’ve done is to encourage consistent involvement by Jacob’s mother through professional communications and enabling Jacob to fully communicate with her during his entire period of incarceration,” Milner said. 

Historically, services to families of juvenile offenders has been minimal, said Abigail Phelps, a re-entry specialist at KJCC. 

“While the juveniles are here at the facility, parental involvement can be sporadic,” she said. “The extent of parental involvement is more situational, depending on the cohesion and strength of the family relationships and bonds,” Phelps said. “While there are many offenders who have limited involvement in their child’s plan while at the facility, there are several parents who are constantly communicating with staff and regularly visiting their child to maintain the family relationship.” 

Phelps notes that establishing regular visitation by parents is a persistent issue. Part of the problem may be geographical, she said. Kansas has only two juvenile correctional facilities, which increases the distance family members travel for visitation. Also, Phelps said some parents may perceive visitation policies and procedures as prohibitive or the parents simply lack any desire to be involved. 

KJCC recently began conducting a survey of parents in order to identify barriers that may be keeping parents from engaging in regular visitation. The findings will be released in a report for staff to address these barriers whether that is through expanding visitation times, reviewing visitation policies that may be restrictive or creating more events at the facility that encourage visitation and interaction between the offender and their family, Phelps said. 

“The current Kansas Department of Corrections administration understands the importance of family involvement with offenders, both in the area of managing behavior while at the facility and for the offender’s transition from the facility back into the community,” she said. 

For offenders such as Jacob, parental engagement can make all the difference, Phelps said.

 “If his mother was not so engaged, and felt so comfortable speaking to the staff at KJCC, including those she never met before, this young man might still be wondering what he is going to do,” she said. “Instead, he has a concrete plan that will include his mother and the community supervision officer with the follow-up services of his case worker.” 

Without the full support of family or other sources of community support, Phelps said the work that occurs in the juvenile correctional setting is less effective and less helpful for offenders and, ultimately, the communities to where the offenders are released. 

“It’s great to see a meeting of the minds between young adults and their family or support system, and it makes my job a lot more meaningful,” she said.

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