Improving the Effectiveness of Juvenile Justice Programs

A New Perspective on Evidence-Based Practice

As a society we want our children to be healthy, safe, happy, fulfilled, and connected to others in a loving, positive manner—and as parents we do whatever we can to ensure those outcomes for our children. Those who work in the social services share the same goals for the children, youth, and families they serve. Unfortunately, though individual workers do their best in this regard, they are too often significantly challenged by the systems within which they do their work to achieve the outcomes we want for our children. Appropriate and effective services may not be available, it may not be possible to match a youth’s needs to the services that are available, and there may not be a way to determine if the services that are available are effective. These challenges are not the result of a lack of knowledge. We now have the knowledge to do this work more effectively; indeed, the research that we have in hand today far exceeds our knowledge base as little as 5 to 10 years ago. Research sponsored by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the National Institute of Justice, and the Bureau of Justice Statistics (all within the U.S. Department of Justice), the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and a number of foundations has helped to grow our knowledge. We now have research on best practices for juvenile justice–involved youth and the policies that support the practices. We find this reflected in the increased use of evidence-based practices and programs, in the growth of the science of risk and protective factors and criminogenic factors and characteristics, and in the development and use of validated risk and needs assessment instruments. We have learned about the importance of advancing our work on an ecological platform, serving youth closer to home, and better connecting youth to family, school, community, and pro-social peers while utilizing a strength-based approach. The true challenge is not, therefore, a lack of knowledge of what works, but rather is in translating the robust body of knowledge into practice.

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