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Too often in the juvenile justice system we find young people that have cycled through the system, often because interventions do not address the root cause of their delinquent behavior. High needs youth may also have exposure to trauma and violence in the home or faced multiple relocations, with limited access to community resources. 

Imagine Stacie, a 16-year-old, with multiple contacts with the justice system, most recently for motor vehicle theft. Throughout her upbringing she was exposed to violence in the home and turned to substance abuse with her peer group as a coping mechanism.

Unfortunately, young people like Stacie can be unresponsive to probation interventions for a variety of reasons. Often the failure is due to lack of individualized services that recognize the full social history of the young person. Many youth face ongoing challenges due to environmental and social factors such as living in a violent household. This is why young people, such as Stacie, could benefit from services like Wraparound that will bring in various outlets to help integrate community support and build an individual’s social support network.

A factor that truly helps to make a more effective Wraparound service is using trauma-informed care, which will help understand how trauma affects an individual’s life. This lens allows us to obtain information that develops the best Wraparound service according to a client’s strengths and challenges. For example, by tailoring services to the youth’s individualized needs we could learn that Stacie experienced a dysfunctional family environment. This essential information allows case planners to wrap” the youth and their family with community-based, sustainable services that promote a healthy home environment. 

Just recently I discovered services such as Wraparound and it challenged my understanding of how young people engage with the juvenile justice system. For a period of time, I believed that people such as Stacie were to blame for repeated offenses. Prior to my experience with the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, my opinions of the juvenile justice system were skewed. I allowed myself to believe that the criminal justice system was handled only in a systematical way, instead of considering that there are other creative options that can be utilized. Focusing on ones individualized needs can essentially help build ones strength and promote self-efficacy.

Some may disagree on the multiple chances that some youth receive after making bad choices, but why keep perpetuating a system that cannot address our high-needs youth. We cannot expect every person to be capable of fighting his or her own battles. Creating and developing long-term and sustainable connections that are community based, is the right intervention for all Californians.