A Family Approach to High-Risk Youth

Oct 24, 2022

A Family Approach to High-Risk Youth

Treatment Specialist Lindsey Pierce, Director Brandon Caffee, Deputy Director Ashley Wilson and Juvenile Probation Officer Landon Liebel

By Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer

“We adapt to the family, the family doesn’t adapt to us.”

This is the heart of the Placement Diversion/Family Reunification programs operated by the Fannin County Juvenile Services’ probation department. The programs are headed by Brandon Caffee, and overseen by Crystal Knoop, program clinical director of Liberty-Resources, Inc.

When a youth comes through the Fannin County courts, Brandon and his staff step in to handle the case. Typical methods years ago called for removing the youth from the community and sending them off to a bootcamp-like environment for rehabilitation. But after they are brought home, they often find themselves back in the same environment where they are more prone to repeat behaviors and return to the judicial system.

In 2011, the process changed. Brandon and his staff partnered with Liberty-Resources on a fresh approach to working with youth in difficult situations. Their Placement Diversion Program is designed for youth who are assessed to be at risk of out-of-home placement due to emotional, behavioral, and familial problems. The Family Reunification Program supports the transition of youth from placement into the family, school, and community.

“We do a family-driven treatment plan based off the child’s referral behavior,” Crystal says. “It’s not a cookie-cutter approach.”

The high-risk youth who come to the programs are on court ordered probation, or are on “deferred probation,” which serves as an informal probation where a solution for their case is agreed on outside of court.

“We want to handle our kids as informally as we can, so they don’t have a life criminal record,” Brandon says.

Rather than focus solely on the youth, the program encompasses the whole family. A trained counselor sets up an in-home consultation, meeting the family in their familiar surroundings instead of a clinical setting.

Deputy Director Ashley Wilson (left) and Treatment Specialist Lindsey Pierce

Getting the youth’s caregiver to agree to the program is the greatest hurdle. But once the plan is established, the counselor sets clear expectations and gives the family every tool they need to reach those goals.

“We are caregiver-focused,” Crystal says. “It’s important for them to have the skills to keep the youth and the community safe. We look at changing the home environment to change the youth’s behavior.”

Often in under a month of sessions, the mood shifts as the caregiver—whether parents, grandparents or other adults—realize the good changes taking place.

“Their communication skills develop, and they open up to their kids. Then the kid understands mom and dad, and mom and dad understand the kid. Our success rate is probably between 90-95% on kids not committing new offenses,” Brandon says. “And the families are happy.”

Funding from THF and FCHA helped make this program possible. To contribute to the positive work of reunifying families, you can donate to the  Community Fund here.