Juvenile Reentry Programs: Handling Unanticipated Problems or Setbacks
It's a Speed Bump, Not a Roadblock
Inevitably, there will be setbacks while implementing your reentry program, but you don’t need to be thrown off course when this happens. It is helpful to have an open dialogue among program staff and others who have experience with implementing a reentry program, so you can anticipate the issue and be well prepared when things do not go according to plan.
Steps to Take: Lessons Learned from the Research
Steps to Take: Lessons Learned from the Research
- Consider whether the program setting is accessible, and consider consolidation or relocation of service delivery settings.
- Partner with neighboring jurisdictions if faced with low program participation.
- Use training to prepare for possible changes in staffing and management.
- Develop a flexible timeline that accommodates for early or unexpected release of juveniles from residential facilities.
- Identify challenges experienced by staff throughout the implementation process.
- Stay engaged with community stakeholders to maximize positive youth reentry outcomes.
Be Prepared with a Back-up Plan for Common Reentry Programming Challenges
Unfortunately, there is no single panacea for the unanticipated problems than can arise when implementing a reentry program. Below are examples of common challenges to consider.
- Consider whether the program setting is accessible, and consider consolidation or relocation of service delivery settings. Service delivery can be simplified by minimizing service settings, if necessary. This step will help ensure that youth can access the services provided by your reentry program. For example, the Gang Intervention Treatment Reentry Development for Youth (GitReady) program called for youth to receive Aggression Replacement Training (ART) in the community after release. When faced with accessibility and low attendance issues, the ART program was adapted and provided while youth were still in secure confinement. Additionally, participating facilities were scattered state-wide, which made it especially difficult for coordinating efforts. Thus, program staff suggested having GitReady youth located in just one facility to streamline service delivery.
- Partner with neighboring jurisdictions if faced with low program participation. Another logistical issue to consider is the potential for low participation. For example, The New Perspectives Aftercare Program experienced low program attendance because of unexpected policy changes on the national level and a competing intervention. The study authors acknowledged that this issue was impossible to anticipate but suggested having a “Plan B” to accommodate participants in other jurisdictions or cities.
- Use training to prepare for possible changes in staffing and management. . Staff attrition or turnover is a common obstacle to reentry program implementation. In the Sex Offender Treatment Unit at the Illinois Youth Center at Harrisburg, the implementation team had to delay the opening of a treatment unit because of changes in the program director position. The developers explained how this significantly impacted the implementation of the program during the first-year evaluation. A clear and comprehensive training curriculum can help bring all new staff up to speed quickly, so program implementation can continue as planned (for more information on training, see Providing Program Training).
- Develop a flexible timeline that accommodates for early or unexpected release of juveniles from residential facilities. Components of your reentry program may be dependent on a youth’s release date. An unexpected, early release may occur that will require some flexibility in terms of service delivery timing. For example, program developers for the New Perspectives Aftercare Program found it difficult to begin the program before a youth’s release, given the different stakeholders involved and unexpected early releases. As a result, the intervention was delivered after release. While this approach is not consistent with the comprehensive reentry model, evaluators found that program effects were not influenced by the program starting pre- or postrelease.
Have Open Dialogue with Program Staff and Stakeholders
Communication is key to anticipating and avoiding setbacks. Make sure to engage all those involved in the implementation process in conversations about the challenges they’re facing and be sure your program can withstand changes in staffing and management.
- Identify challenges experienced by staff throughout the implementation process. This can be done through one-on-one meetings with staff members, group discussions, or staff surveys. Providing staff the opportunity to discuss their challenges with the implementation process can help to frame issues and ensure appropriate solutions are developed to address the problems. For example, the GitRedy Program conducted interviews with program staff to identify common implementation challenges and anticipate needed adjustments or different implementation approaches.
- Stay engaged with community stakeholders to maximize positive youth reentry outcomes. Communication is key when it comes to overcoming anticipated setbacks, not only with program staff but also with other stakeholders in the community (to learn more about stakeholders, see Getting Stakeholder-Buy In). Through the implementation and eventual delivery of your program, you will experience unanticipated setbacks both at the programmatic level and at the individual youth level. Use the partnerships you’ve established as a resource to address challenges that youth participants may face. For example, program developers for the Reentry Services Project (RSP) in Clay County, Minnesota, recognized the significant employment barriers present for youth returning to their communities. RSP developers intended to overcome this by working closely with employers in the community and staying engaged with local, active employment programs.