The majority of children who find their way into the juvenile delinquency system have experienced first-hand many of the injustices and social ills which plague our society: poverty, racism, drugs, gangs, domestic violence, mental illness, abusive or inconsistent parenting, and inadequate schools and education—just to name a few. Unfortunately, it seems that in numerous instances the delinquency system is not a last-resort intervention, so to speak, but rather the first intervention many of these children receive.
It seems clear that social-work intervention should therefore be an integral part of the system's approach toward addressing juvenile crime. Identifying individual, family, cultural, and community factors, assessing children and family needs, and providing appropriate resource recommendations should happen routinely with every child who enters the system.
In its efforts to provide a best practice, "whole child," or Holistic Representation model, the CJLP utilizes an interdisciplinary team. For this reason, CJLP has two clinical social workers on staff, Sergio Serna and Efty Sharony.
SOCIAL WORK ROLE
CJLP social workers function as consultants or "experts." The social workers' role is to help provide a contextual understanding of clients, their lives, the offense(s) with which they are charged, and all biological, psychological, social, and other factors which may be impacting them.
CJLP social workers provide the following services:
- Bio-psycho-social assessments when needed
- Law student education regarding individual, family, cultural, school, and community factors which may be impacting clients, and as relevant to a client's petition
- Resource assistance: assessing children and family needs and suggesting resources with the goal of improving functioning and keeping clients from re-offending
- Disposition recommendations, as well as alternative rehabilitation plans when appropriate
- Supervision of law students' case management efforts
- Direct intervention with clients and families, and/or guidance of students in providing interventions
- On-going collaboration and consultation with law students and staff as needed
SOCIAL WORK PROJECTS/PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT
In our work to provide comprehensive advocacy for clients, we have come across many obstacles in helping guide them toward rehabilitation and positive outcomes. Parents, guardians, and caretakers, among others, are central in these efforts, but are frequently left out of the process due to the nature of the system, a lack of knowledge, and a fear of the legal process itself.
CJLP has developed a pilot program, PLAN (Parents Learn Advocacy Now), which aims at empowering parents and caretakers to participate more actively in their child's advocacy and rehabilitation, which in turn, requests system accountability toward their stated goals. Education about the juvenile-justice system and more effective communication between all parties involved provides families with the tools needed to be better advocates for their children. We anticipate a by-product of this program will be the development of an additional support system for the juveniles' families, as they meet one another and learn to navigate the system and support their children together.
A curriculum for this program has been developed and will soon be available in both English and Spanish. PLAN will present information such as: education about the juvenile justice system; how to advocate for their child and communicate with their child's attorney, the judge, and probation; and what specifically they can do to be better advocates for their child. The supervising judge at the Inglewood Juvenile Court has expressed her support of this project, and CJLP hopes to launch this program later this year.