Methods: We used a qualitative case study design with the program as the unit of analysis to situate the program in its context and to uncover how the case managers interacted with the young people (Yin, 2017). We reviewed program documents and conducted interviews with the program’s executive leadership (n=3), case managers (n=11), a licensed community social worker (n=1), and racially and ethnically diverse youth program participants (n=14). All interviews were conducted via Zoom and lasted between 45 minutes and one hour. We used thematic analysis to analyze and interpret patterns of meaning from the interview data (Braun & Clarke, 2014). Trustworthiness strategies (e.g., reflexivity, peer debriefing, audit trail) were also used (Bhattacharya, 2017).
Results: Weekly face-to-face visits supported case managers with building positive and trusting relationships with program participants during COVID-19, as the young people felt confident their case manager was available when they needed them. Meeting young people's basic needs (e.g., food delivery) and connecting them with supportive services helped to reduce their vulnerability to risk factors in their context, which was perceived to strengthen the relationship. Lastly, assisting young people with navigating court supervision and compliance was also important to help the young people avoid violations and promote desistance.
Conclusions and Implications: Findings indicate that while COVID complicated case managers’ work, they were able to find ways to connect with young people and develop trusting relationships. Focusing on meeting young people’s basic needs was an effective mechanism for establishing trust and building relationships with new clients during this time. Meeting face-to-face was more effective than communicating online for new clients, though online communication was effective for maintaining relationships with existing clients. This suggests there are limits to the role of technology in case management. Finally, we note that case managers’ work took place in the context of and was aided by the local juvenile probation agency’s decision to furlough nonviolent youth offenders and minimize the number of new arrests.