Grand challenges for social work include juvenile and criminal justice prevention efforts. Effective programs to address recidivism and system involvement in juvenile justice are necessary to promote “smart decarceration” (Pettus-Davis & Epperson, 2015) and inform system decision-making. This paper describes the first known external evaluation of Family Centered Treatment®, an intensive community-based intervention for youth and families with juvenile justice involvement. Unlike laboratory-developed interventions, FCT was initiated by practitioners and is widely available. Key characteristics of FCT include the family as the focus of intervention, intensive service provision, and connection with community resources. FCT is unique in its “no reject/no eject” policy, serving youth regardless of risk factors or severity of offending behavior.
The current study goes beyond previous FCT evaluations through its consideration of a longer time at risk and analysis of both re-adjudication and commitment to the juvenile justice system, following services. We hypothesize that FCT will demonstrate effectiveness, relative to group care, in reducing re-adjudication and commitment.
Data were drawn from multiple administrative datasets maintained by the state juvenile justice agency and FCT. All youth in the sample had been adjudicated delinquent and were either served by FCT or in congregate care facilities between 2008 and 2013. The congregate care group and FCT group were matched on nine demographic and offense-related covariates, using propensity-score matching to create statistically equivalent groups. Using nearest neighbor one-to-one matching, with replacement, the final sample size was 2,687. Survival analysis (Kaplan-Meier and Cox proportional hazards models) was employed to model time from discharge to two outcomes: re-adjudication and juvenile justice commitment.
In the matched sample, 159 (12.8%) of the FCT group were re-adjudicated and 78 (6.3%) were committed to the juvenile justice system following discharge from treatment. By comparison, 185 youth (12.8%) in the congregate care group were re-adjudicated and 125 (8.7%) were committed. In the Cox regression, no significant difference between groups over time was identified for the re-adjudication outcome, controlling for length of stay and new delinquent adjudication during treatment. However, the hazard ratio of 0.87 was in the expected direction. In the model predicting time to commitment, the FCT group had a significantly lower hazard of the outcome (hazard ratio=0.61; p< .001), controlling for other model factors.
Conclusions and Implications:
Although significant differences regarding re-adjudication were not found in this study, FCT showed reduced commitment to the juvenile justice system following discharge from treatment. Due to the problematic trajectories of youth with ongoing juvenile court involvement, including increased risk of adult criminal justice outcomes (Petitclerc et al., 2013), FCT may be a tool to address the grand challenge of decarceration. Social work has a need for ongoing research on such “real-world” interventions, in which all referred youth offenders can be served,. Furthermore, the growing number of community-based alternatives to congregate care can enhance access to effective social work services. Social workers as service providers can employ such models with juvenile court-involved youth and families.