Including Youth and Family Voice in Michigan’s Juvenile Justice Assessment and Recommendations Process

At The Council of State Governments Justice Center, we understand that including youth and family voice in policy development is critical to identifying effective solutions that improve outcomes for youth. That’s why during our assessment of Michigan’s juvenile justice system, we facilitated four listening sessions between youth and families and members from Michigan’s Juvenile Justice Reform Task Force.

During these discussions, 33 youth and family members from four different counties in Michigan shared compelling experiences and solutions with 16 task force members and representatives, including the following:

  • The ways in which youth and families are engaged by individual juvenile justice professionals and in the overall court process impacts outcomes.
  • Youth and parents want to resolve family, school, and mental health needs in the community but are instead referred to the juvenile justice system.
  • Youth and families’ experiences demonstrate that service availability, effectiveness, and consistency is lacking across the state.
  • Youth and families reported a significant need for improvement in the way out-of-home placements include families and prepare youth for success.

These insights and recommendations were presented during the task force meeting on March 21, 2022, and task force members shared their reactions to hearing from youth and families. Task force members noted some key takeaways:

  • It’s difficult for families to work through the system, and the need for peer support is instrumental for parents and should be implemented as a best practice.
  • Parents want to feel in control of what happens to their child and instead are often excluded from decision-making and feel blamed for their child’s actions instead of being viewed as an expert on their child and as a critical member of the team. Across the system, parents should remain in a decision-making role to promote strong outcomes and family reunification.
  • The dearth of resources available to youth and parents in the community, particularly related to mental health and family conflict, leads to significant juvenile justice involvement.
  • Very young children (10 and 11 years old) are involved in the juvenile justice system due to school discipline, truancy, and mental health reasons.
  • Youth experience re-traumatization by having to repeat their trauma history numerous times due to changes in programming, clinicians, and other staff turnover.
  • Schools and juvenile justice systems need stronger collaboration, especially for referring youth to court, probation officers monitoring youth on school grounds, developing continuity of schooling while youth are placed out of home, and reintegrating youth back into school after placement.
  • There was high dissatisfaction with juvenile defense; parents and youth did not feel their attorneys had enough information to advocate for them.
  • While youth were in facilities, parents were not included in key decisions, such as in medication changes, dentistry, or reentry planning.

These listening sessions are part of the CSG Justice Center’s strategy to advance equity within our assessment and the juvenile justice system in Michigan. To further this strategy, we recruited parents from the listening sessions to participate in working groups, where they will engage in policy development with other system stakeholders. To fully support the parent representatives in this process, we formed a Parent Advisory Board that meets regularly to discuss policy options and recommendations.

Over the next few weeks, the working groups will discuss policy recommendations across discrete system points—diversion, court process, out-of-home placement, data, and financing. The recommendations generated from the listening sessions are included in the policy frameworks the working groups are actively reviewing now, including a framework explicitly focused on equity and family engagement to ensure that intentional strategies are developed and discussed. These working group discussions will inform how the task force votes on policy options in July 2022 and what legislative, funding, and administrative policy changes should ultimately be included in the final recommendations prepared for the Governor’s office.

We are grateful to the youth and families for investing their time in this process and sharing their personal stories with us. We know their insights and recommendations will further advance effective solutions for youth in Michigan.

Stephanie Shaw works as a project manager for The Council of State Governments Justice Center, a national nonprofit that is partnering with Michigan’s Task Force on Juvenile Justice Reform to conduct an assessment of the state’s juvenile justice system.