The King County Prosecutor’s Office (PAO), in partnership with King County Superior Court and the King County Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention, plans to launch FIRS (Family Intervention and Restorative Services), a new juvenile diversion program geared to provide services to families who are struggling with domestic violence (DV). Unlike adult court, juvenile DV rarely involves intimate partner violence. Instead, the vast majority of cases in juvenile court involve youth acting out against their parents or siblings at a misdemeanor level. Many of these youth struggle with substance abuse and mental health disorders.
Juvenile DV cases are referred to the PAO typically after families, in a moment of crisis, call police. Although families look to the juvenile justice system for help, almost none of them want their children to end up with a criminal record. Approximately 40 percent of juvenile DV referrals result in declines because families routinely decline to assist or participate in the formal court system for this reason.
Under the current juvenile justice model, families in crisis receive services only after their child has been arrested or formally charged. The PAO plans to implement FIRS, a new program that will offer families services at the time of crisis and keep youth out of the juvenile justice system.
FIRS is modeled after Pima County, Arizona’s Domestic Violence Alternative Center, where that jurisdiction has seen its juvenile DV bookings plummet from over 1,000 youth annually to just 82 in 2012.
Under FIRS, law enforcement would take youth involved in familial DV to a 24/7 center located on site of the existing detention facility. Instead of being booked into detention, youth will be assessed by a Master’s level social worker who specializes in family violence. Youth receive respite care, a “cooling off” period, and are reconnected with family and services, in a planned and structured manner designed to help change family dynamics. Youth who participate in these services will not have their cases referred to the PAO.
The benefits of this common sense approach will be substantial. Based on 2013 statistics, each year nearly 300 fewer youth will be booked into juvenile detention and nearly 500 families will bypass the delay created by formal court processing and receive earlier intervention services. The PAO hopes to launch FIRS as soon as it receives funding from the King County Executive and Council.