And still we RISE: Community-based responses to supporting youth involved with the law
by Zainab Godwin
Manager, Youth Justice Department, For Youth Initiative
by Rebecca Houwer
Manager, Knowledge Exchange, YouthREX
YouthREX’s recent report, Supporting Positive Outcomes for Youth Involved with the Law, identifies three ‘vexing’ questions that have been asked throughout the history of youth criminal justice:
1) Why do youth become involved in the justice system?
2) What is the best way to support them once they do?
3) How can Social Science research inform interventions to improve outcomes of youth involved with the law?
The second question: What is the best way to support youth once they become involved in the justice system is the question the R.I.S.E. program (Re-integrating the Socially Excluded), a program developed and run by For Youth Initiative (FYI) is on a quest to answer!
FYI is a youth-led, youth-driven and youth-focused agency that provides programs and services to youth living in the Weston-Mt. Denis community of Toronto. Central to FYI’s programs is the recognition of the importance of involving local youth in the development of programs so they can develop their leadership capacities.
A Short History of R.I.S.E
R.I.S.E. was developed from the findings of a pilot study conducted by FYI about the experiences of youth involved with the law and how to better support them. The pilot study, called Building Lives on Community Cohesion (B.L.O.C.C), was a short, two-month project that was designed to identify the reintegration needs of youth living in Weston Mt. Dennis with previous involvement in the youth justice system.
The findings from BLOCC showed that youth were experiencing significant social isolation and confirmed many of the concerns that were also noted in a report by an FYI led multi-sectoral taskforce: the Youth Anti-Violence Task Force report. The findings of this report emphasized the importance of addressing the social isolation that youth experience, increasing healthy family wellbeing, and providing consistent access to educational and economic opportunities.
In 2014, FYI was awarded three years of funding from the Ministry of Justice (Youth Justice Fund) to test an expanded model of B.L.O.C.C. renamed Re-integrating the Socially Excluded (R.I.S.E.). The expanded and strengthened R.I.S.E model uses an evidence-based wrap-around support model for youth (12-17) in conflict with the law, to increase leadership abilities and skills to prevent and intervene in youth violence.
R.I.S.E. focuses on four key areas: work and career, education, family wellbeing and social life and takes a restorative justice approach while allowing youth to fulfill their extrajudicial sanctions and Community Service Orders. R.I.S.E. provides youth with the opportunities to create an individual goal map, develop appropriate social skills, explore civic engagement opportunities and connect with leaders in the community that can serve as mentors.
R.I.S.E. offers group sessions for youth to interact with their peers and unpack topics such as bullying, anger management, effective decision-making, and community building. As the majority of youth are underage, parental involvement, support and awareness of their participation in the program is vital. A key component of this program is the one-on-one support provided to each youth and the required involvement of the families/guardians of the youth.
Mindful of how important it is to evaluate community-based programs that support youth involved with the law so the program can understand if and how they make a difference for youth, FYI partnered with YouthREX on an evaluation of the R.I.S.E. program that includes both a process and outcome evaluation. This evaluation will be completed in the Fall of 2017. The YouthREX evaluation team first worked with R.I.S.E. staff to develop a revised logic model that clarified the R.I.S.E. program outcomes so program stakeholders could have a shared understanding of what outcomes R.I.S.E. is hoping to accomplish for youth participants.
What's Working? Progress Towards Outcomes
Preliminary findings indicate that R.I.S.E. is reaching youth who are the target population and is implementing program components that could create changes in youth’s lives towards the achievement of the program goals/objectives.
- R.I.S.E. has maintained a six percent recidivism rate since year one.
- No R.I.S.E. participant has missed any court dates largely due to the dedication by staff that attend every court date with the youth and their families. This practice came about when the team realized that legal aid lawyers would miss some court dates and the youth were unaware of the implications of their absence from court.
Individual sessions as well as group sessions have also been adapted to allow space for conversation and education that teaches the youth the outcome of their charges once they are over 18, as well as the impact of their crime on the victims, incorporating restorative justice practices with youth where appropriate.
The demographic characteristics of R.I.S.E. participants are reflective of the Weston Mt Denis community: more than half of the youth identify as racialized newcomers.
A close review of the demographic characteristics indicates that the youth who identify as “newcomer youth” increased to 24 youth (48%) in year two from one youth (6%) in year one.
Program participants who identified as newcomers faced difficulties understanding Canadian culture/processes and integrating into the school system. Likewise, the parents/guardians are themselves struggling to find employment; arriving new to Canada they often have little to no familial support or community support and have a poor understanding of the Canadian education and criminal system.
Feeding Evaluation Findings into Program Design
The challenges newcomer youth (and their families) experience compound the likelihood of negative outcomes for newcomer youth involved with the law. R.I.S.E. has responded by offering both newcomer youth and their parents the following supports:
While the expected outcomes for youth that participate in R.I.S.E. are similar for newcomer youth (i.e. increased educational achievement, legal and employment supports, improved family well-being, reduction in social isolation), R.I.S.E. is working toward an additional outcome for newcomer youth: positive integration into Canadian social, economic, and political life.
Moreover, in order to better understand the needs of newcomer youth involved with the law, FYI has started a newcomer youth-led participatory action research project called “Rising Researchers.” Rising Researchers seeks to understand the systemic barriers that propel newcomer youth into gangs and criminal activities. SWe are currently collecting and analysing the data from our outcome evaluation. Stay tuned….