Abstract: Relationships Matter: Exploring Case Management Strategies in a Hybrid Diversion and Reentry Program during the COVID-19 Pandemic (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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457P Relationships Matter: Exploring Case Management Strategies in a Hybrid Diversion and Reentry Program during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Saturday, January 14, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Virginia Snodgrass- Rangel, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Houston
Charles Lea, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Houston, Houston, TX
Juan Barthelemy, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Houston, Houston, TX
Lori Rhea, BA, Student, University of Houston, Houston, TX
Fernando Cabrera, BA, Student, University of Houston, Houston, TX
Background and Purpose: Racial and ethnic disparities in the juvenile punishment system (JPS) are well-documented, and Black youth are overrepresented (Hockenberry, 2018). Diversion and reentry programs are identified as strategies to potentially address this problem, because they can offer a range of services that can reduce vulnerability and promote positive development (Wong et al., 2016). Case managers play an important role in these young people's developmental processes because they can link them to their context, and promote resilience and buffer the effects of risk factors (Osher et al., 2020) by helping them regulate their emotions and behaviors, connect with others, and develop a sense of agency and positive identity (Winokur et al., 2020). However, given COVID-19 shelter-in-place restrictions, it is unclear how case managers developed and maintained caring and supportive relationships with young people in diversion and reentry programs during this time. This paper explores the strategies case managers in one diversion-reentry program used to cultivate and maintain positive developmental relationships with young people in the JPS.

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.