The goal of juvenile justice interventions is to motivate adolescent behavior change—not an easy task, as any parent can attest. Teen behavior can be baffling; adolescents are impulsive, they love to take risks, their peers are essential to their self-image, and their emotions play a key role in their decision-making process. But there are strategies that have been proven to help adolescents, even the most at-risk youth, to live healthy lives.
Some of the most vulnerable teens become involved with the juvenile justice system and increasingly courts are focusing on providing services for these young people to prevent future criminal behavior. There are a lot of ways to engage behavior change—a key and often overlooked one within the justice setting is the principle of integrated case plans. Traditionally, youth involved with the justice system are assigned a probation officer or social worker to oversee their compliance with court mandates, like curfew or abstinence from drugs, and the probation officer builds a case plan to help the youth meet the requirements. Integrated case planning, however, takes a more personalized and involved approach to building a plan that works for an individual youth. Below are the principle tenants of integrated case planning.
1. Setting relevant goals
Integrated case planning begins with setting goals that are specifically responsive to the youth’s criminogenic risk factors, instead of simply imposing a case plan that matches the standard compliance mandates of the court. Case managers should use the results of the youth’s risk assessment to develop a risk level-appropriate case plan. In addition, case managers should focus on their changeable risk areas that evidence has shown most affect the likelihood of recidivism. These areas are called the central eight criminogenic risk factors and they include:
- Criminal behavior
- Criminal personality patterns
- Criminal attitudes
- Criminal peers
- School and work
- Leisure activities
- Substance misuse
The first four areas in the list are the most critical to change. Case managers should prioritize the youth’s goal setting around antisocial thought patterns, attitudes, behaviors, and peer associations if the assessment indicates these as areas of need. An example of a goal for a young person that addresses criminal behavior would be “to decrease my use of violent verbal and physical attacks.”
2. Client-directed goal setting
Case managers should work with youth and the youth’s family to agree upon the case goals. This may require some time, patient facilitation, and motivational interviewing techniques. I highly recommend reading Motivational Interviewing for the Criminal Offender by Jill D. Stinson and Michael D. Clark to learn more about approaches that aid in moving a client from resistance to engagement and meaningful change.
3. Be SMART
I have found that most case managers and even those who sit on the bench are familiar with the concept of SMART goals, perhaps because it has been applied to everything from business planning to parenting. But for those who need a refresher, SMART stands for specific (simple, tangible, and defined), measurable (how much or how many), achievable (realistic and actionable), relevant (applicable and appropriate to the client’s circumstances), and time-bound (the deadline). This strategy encourages behavior change because it outlines a clear action plan to achieve a distinct outcome. An example of a SMART case plan goal would be:
Goal: To decrease my use of violent verbal and physical attacks.
Tasks: To gain control over my anger I am going to keep a log of when I get angry and describe what happened. Based on this log, I am going to identify patterns in the situations or circumstances that make me angry and discuss with my therapist or social worker things I can do in those situations.
Success: I will know I have succeeded when I can identify situations where I controlled my anger and avoided an unnecessary argument or fight.
Timetable: I will keep a log of my anger for two months.
4. Ready, set, action!
Imagine if the only resources you had in learning your profession were verbal praises and criticism with no instruction or practice. Similarly, case management does not simply entail monitoring the youth’s progress towards their goals, praising them when they are on track, and reprimanding their behavior when they fall short. Young people need help practicing new ways of processing information, thinking, and behaving. To help them do this, case managers should have a wealth of activities to complete with their clients to teach them how to change their behavior.
In certain juvenile justice interventions, a youth’s case plan and progress should be shared with relevant parties so that they can reinforce goals and activities. In a juvenile drug treatment court, for example, the judge, prosecutor, defense attorney, and treatment provider should all be aware of the client’s weekly case plan and progress. In addition, the judge should reference a youth’s case plan from the bench, not just the court’s compliance measures.
Implementing integrated case planning into probation or other judicial services takes planning. Just like adolescent behavior, organizational systems can be hard to change. But with some SMART goals, effective training and technical assistance, and a little practice, it can be done—with better client outcomes to prove it.
Based on a presentation by Dr. Jacqueline van Wormer