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New “Juvenile Justice 101” Program Provides Assistance to Washington Families

It’s a call that is frightening for any parent to receive: a probation screener is on the line, informing a mother or father that a child is in police detention.

But now in Washington State’s King, Benton and Franklin Counties, that call comes with some support, as the screener tells parents about a new orientation session held before court hearings. Known as “Juvenile Justice 101,” the program was designed specifically for parents new to navigating the court system.

It was developed by Washington State Models for Change through the Mental Health/Juvenile Justice Action Network Family Engagement Project, funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Facilitators who lead the 30-minute support sessions are parents themselves who have helped their own children through the courts. “That’s the linchpin on which the whole project rests,” said Sarah Walker, a research assistant professor at the University of Washington who manages Juvenile Justice 101. “These are families talking to families, communicating in a way that reaches them.”

The sessions include a video orientation to juvenile courts, as well as a 20-page resource booklet. They identify the players and processes in the legal system, and suggest information that might be useful for parents to prepare. Facilitators answer questions such as, “What is detention like?” “Will my child be safe?” and “What kind of resources are available to parents?”

The sessions, which began in November 2010, are held once a week in the same buildings as detention hearings. Responses from parents have been so positive that they will soon expand to twice a week.

Juvenile Justice 101 was created in part by asking families what they need, and asking courts what they believe families need, said Kelly Warner-King, Washington State Models For Change's Mental Health Projects Coordinator. In the past, “Parents felt very left out, confused and not sure where to turn,” she said.

Now with Juvenile Justice 101, that’s beginning to change, with a sustainable model that has the potential for replication.

Reform areas: Mental health

States: Washington

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Models for Change is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, website operated by Justice Policy Institute.