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Before January 1, 2016, the intervention model for juvenile domestic violence (DV) cases was ineffective because services were not offered until after disposition (sentencing of the youth’s criminal matter) instead of when families needed them most, at or near the time of crisis.  Although families that resorted to calling the police were typically seeking help for themselves and their child, they rarely wanted formal criminal charges filed against their child.  Therefore, families generally withdrew from the system before disposition occurred and left dissatisfied and lacking the services they desperately needed. 

Youth Services Center

Unlike adult court, juvenile DV rarely involves intimate partner violence. The vast majority of the cases involve youth acting out in ways against their parents or siblings that meet the legal definition of a crime. Most situations involve misdemeanor offenses, such as Assault 4, Harassment, or Malicious Mischief 3.  Many of the youth struggle with substance abuse, trauma and mental health disorders. Although these families look to the juvenile justice system for help, almost none of them want their child to end up with a criminal record. Parents/guardians/siblings routinely declined to assist or participate in the formal court system for this reason. Approximately 40% of juvenile DV referrals resulted in declines. King County Juvenile Probation statistics confirm that needed services rarely reached these families in crisis. Of the nearly 550 juvenile DV referrals received in 2013, only 18 youth were referred to an evidence based treatment program. Clearly, the system that was in place was not helping the families and youth in need.

On January 1, 2016, King County initiated Phase 1 of FIRS (Family Intervention and Restorative Services) and dramatically changed the paradigm for how King County handles juvenile DV cases. King County hired two specially trained Juvenile probation counselors (JPC) and two additional Step-Up workers to meet with the youth and families as soon as possible after the youth was booked into detention.  The FIRS team assesses whether the youth is eligible for the FIRS program. If the youth is both eligible and agrees to participate, he or she is not charged with a crime but instead enters into a FIRS agreement to engage in services specifically catered to the needs of the youth and family.  Often, the family agrees to engage in Step-Up, a court-based DV intervention program designed to address youth violence and acting out toward family members utilizing a 20 session curriculum in a group setting with youth and parents. Other times, youth need evidence based treatment such as drug and alcohol treatment or mental health treatment. Families get enrolled in services specifically tailored to their needs rapidly.

In addition to the need to get family services quickly, King County is also committed to reducing the number of youth in detention.  Although Phase 1 is a substantial improvement in how King County responds to families in crisis, youth are still being detained in the King County Youth Detention Center.  Phase 2, to be implemented on June 30, 2016, will provide a respite center for the youth so that they never need to be booked or spend any time in detention.  It will also provide a safe place youth can stay for a few days when families often need some time apart.

King County can dramatically reduce the number of bookings into juvenile detention with a respite center. Family violence cases represent approximately one third of all bookings on new offenses into the juvenile detention center.

The respite center model is a non-secure 24/7 receiving facility that eliminates the need for detention bookings on the majority of family violence cases. This model allows flexibility for families to receive respite services that are not tied to the criminal justice system and will greatly reduce formal charging. The Step-up workers and   JPCs added in Phase 1 have their offices upstairs from the FIRS center.  Depending on how many youth are housed in the center, they can either work with them in the FIRS Center or simply escort the youth to their offices upstairs.  The FIRS Center will also provide a welcome resource for law enforcement as many youth who do not meet the stringent detention intake criteria are turned away and law enforcement is forced to make the difficult decision to leave the youth in crisis in the home with his/her victim. This often results in subsequent 911 calls for help that strain emergency services.


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