* While navigating through this website, you will come across several asterisks with a number inside (#). If you click on a number it will take you to another web page which will contain more information about the juvenile justice system and where most of the content on this website was found. Each number will take you to a different web page depending on what information the (#) is covering.

The Juvenile Justice System

The purpose of the juvenile justice court is to protect, give guidance to and rehabilitate children who commit delinquency acts and to protect the community. Depending on the level of the crime and based on the decision of the judge, a youth is either allowed to live in their home under court supervision or they are placed outside of their home in an unlocked or locked facility, depending upon the child’s age (1). Whether a youth is released on probation or detained in a juvenile justice facility, the courts decisions will have a significant impact on your child’s life. Families often feel a loss of control over the decisions and well-being of their child’s life once they come in contact with the juvenile justice system. More often than not, “tough-on-crime” rhetoric and uniformed stereotypes about youth and their families have governed the policies of the juvenile justice system (2).

The purpose of this juvenile justice guide is to provide families of system-involved youth with knowledge and understanding of how the juvenile justice system is structured and how they can be more actively involved and engaged in every aspect of their child’s life during and after they have spent time in the juvenile justice system.


Being a parent of a youth who enters the juvenile justice system can be an extremely overwhelming and frightening experience. Often, the first reaction many parents experience is fear when they realize that their child has entered a system where as a parent, you no longer have control over what happens to your child. Navigating the juvenile justice system can often be confusing and stressful, and many parents receive little to no guidance or support through the process. Upon finding out that their child has been arrested, these are some of the common questions parents have: (a) Where is their child?; (b) Are they safe?; (c) Can you bring them home?; (d) What did they do?; (e) Have they been hurt or did they hurt someone else?; (f) Do they need a lawyer?; and (g) What should they do now and what will happen next? Although these seem like very basic and easy to access answers, more often than not, parents find themselves feeling helpless and uncertain about what the future holds for their child and how best to help them during this time (3).

Benefits to Family Involvement and Engagement

Family involvement is critical for youth who enter the juvenile justice system. Research in best practices for prevention, intervention and aftercare services for juveniles calls for the participation of, education of and support for biological parents, surrogates, or guardians to ensure that families are engaged in the process. Family involvement is the process of engaging and involving families in decision-making. Involving families has the potential to benefit the youth, the family and the juvenile justice system. (4)

Supportive involvement of family members can help youth by:

  • Reducing anxiety
  • Reinforcing the importance of treatment, including the proper use of medication
  • Providing youth with an advocate who can help them articulate their needs
  • Increasing the chances of a smooth transition home once their involvement with the juvenile justice system ends

Families benefit by:

  • Knowing where their child is and what is happening to them
  • Understanding the process and expectations of the juvenile justice system so they can make more informed decisions about their child
  • Feeling valued for the important information that they can share about their child, especially strengths and needs; diagnostic, treatment and medication history; typical patterns of behavior; and educational background and status

If parents are involved, the juvenile justice system can:

  • Gain important and reliable knowledge and insights about a youth from family members that otherwise might not be available or known to juvenile justice system staff
  • Establish working partnerships with families that increase the likelihood that families and youth will follow through with service plans
  • Build a sense of shared responsibility for youth and improving agency culture and staff morale (4)

The Hopes For Creating This Guide

Families often receive little guidance as to how they can effectively participate in the juvenile justice system process, and few accommodations are made to include them. Further, families often come to the juvenile justice system in a state of panic or crisis. They may be experiencing a mix of emotions, as such: (4)

  • Fear, at the prospect of what is happening to their child
  • Helplessness, because they do not understand the system and feel unable to protect their child
  • Anxiety, over the lack of knowledge about what the expect from the juvenile justice system
  • Relief, especially if their child has a behavioral health disorder and they have been unable to care for their child

Most families, when adequately supported and engaged, can work in full partnership with juvenile justice system professionals to achieve better outcomes for youth. To do this, families need education, training and support so that they can become:

  • More knowledgeable about the juvenile justice system and its responsibilities
  • Better about to understand, predict and participate in the process
  • Effective individual advocated for their own children
  • Effective system advocated for all children (4)