The U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, OJJDP Family Listening Sessions: Executive Summary was just released. Over a period of months, families and children involved in the juvenile justice system in sixteen states were interviewed about their experiences. Indiana was not included, but the themes resonate with what the children and parents in the system say here.
A common theme was inadequate communication and exclusion of the family in the process. There was a lack of understanding of the system and what to expect for both the child and the parents, including their rights. Many were not advised of long-term consequences of adjudications, which impacted their ability to make wise choices.
Families described barriers to maintaining a meaningful relationship with the child due to visitation schedules, transportation issues, etc. Parents wanted a bigger role in discussing their child’s needs. Overall, there was a feeling of shame and lack of respect by the other court participants that prevented the parents from fulling participating.
As a start in Indiana, stakeholders, such as the Indiana Judicial Center and the Indiana Public Defender Council, should work to develop more materials in a variety of communication styles for families to access and gain knowledge about what is going to happen in juvenile court. A model could be the Indiana judiciary’s website that has videos available about jury duty. Similar videos could be made about the juvenile court and posted for families searching for this information. In addition, written documents explaining the court process could be developed and posted on state and county websites and handed out to each family as they enter the system and as they go through the various stages of the process. There is room for improvement.