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NYC Administration for Children's Services: The City's child welfare agency, dedicated to protecting children and strengthening families

Juvenile Justice Initiative

Launched in February of 2007, the Children’s Services Juvenile Justice Initiative (JJI) provides intensive, evidence-based services for youth involved in the juvenile justice system.  The goals of JJI are to reduce the number of delinquent youth in residential facilities; shorten lengths of stay for those youth that are placed in residential care; reduce recidivism; and improve individual and family functioning.

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JI is comprised of two programs: (1) the Alternative-to-Placement Program: an intensive service alternative for delinquent youth in Family Court who would otherwise serve time in institutional settings, and (2) Intensive Preventive Aftercare Services: transitional and re-entry therapeutic services for  youth—and their families—returning home from placement in institutional settings as a result of delinquency involvement. 

Research with juvenile delinquents has demonstrated conclusively that youth who remain in the community and receive intensive therapeutic services achieve better outcomes than those sent to out-of-home placements. In numerous randomized trials in other jurisdictions, the therapeutic interventions utilized by JJI have resulted in a 30-70% decrease in recidivism, numbers that hold great promise for New York’s court-involved youth, their families, and the public safety of the community at-large, at a fraction of the cost of residential placement.

The JJI alternative to placement program annually serves approximately 380 youth and their families across all five boroughs of New York City, and 150 youth returning from placement in our after-care program. Together, these programs represent one of the largest juvenile justice service reforms in NYC history, and a unique effort by the City’s child welfare agency to recognize and address—in an empirically supported manner—the multi-systems involvement of youth in the juvenile justice system. JJI is part of ACS’ ongoing commitment to reducing reliance on institutionalized care, while protecting and empowering youth and families, in times of crisis. 

JJI uses three therapeutic models:

  1. Functional Family Therapy:  A small team of highly trained therapists, with a maximum caseload of ten families, provides therapy to the entire family in the home.  Therapy takes place over an intensive three-five month period and includes up to 30 one-hour therapeutic sessions.  FFT has three phases, which it implements sequentially: 
    • Engage and motivate youth and their families
    • Develop and implement long-term behavior plans for each family member
    • Strengthen families’ capacities to utilize community resources. 

Data indicates that FFT reduces recidivism by 25 to 60%.   

  1. Multisystemic Therapy:  A small team of highly trained therapists, with a maximum caseload of six families, provides therapy to the entire family in the home over six to twelve months.  Therapists visit the home multiple times per week and are also available by phone 24 hours a day.  The youth’s entire social network is considered and relied upon to assist the youth and family in making positive changes.  Therapists use cognitive, behavioral, and family therapies to address issues relating to substance abuse, family dysfunction, negative peer influences, and poor school attachment.  Data from 30 years of randomized trials with juvenile offenders suggests that MST produces a 25-70% decrease in rates of rearrest at a cost significantly lower than that of placement. 
  1. Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care:  Delinquent youth are placed with a specially trained foster family which becomes, alongside a family therapist, part of the youth’s therapeutic treatment team.  For six to nine months,  MTFC foster parents, who have 24 hours per day/7 days per week access to program support, carry out an individualized program that sets clear rules, expectations, and limits to manage behavior.  The foster parents provide a daily report, which relays information about the youth’s behavior to the treatment team and ensures that the MTFC program is being implemented correctly.  Simultaneously, the youth’s family receives intensive therapy and parenting skills designed to teach them how to provide consistent discipline, supervision, and to encourage them to make changes in their parenting style.  The goal is to prepare parents for their child’s return home while increasing positive relationships in the family.  Upon return, the family then receives MST until the family and youth are able to show sufficient progress.  Data show that MTFC reduces recidivism by approximately 60% at a cost significantly lower than placement.

JJI is also the pilot of the Blue Sky project.  Blue Sky utilizes all three evidence-based modalities as a continuum. Youth may transition from one modality to another, and back again, depending on the youth and family’s needs and their response to each modality.  The founders and developers of MST, FFT, and MTFC chose JJI and New York City to be the first ever site for piloting the Blue Sky’s program.

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