Case Study: Louisiana


An Assessment of Service Needs for Louisiana's Troubled Youth: Lafayette Parish and Vicinity

This project was completed by Evidence-Based Associates (EBA) in 2007.

Background
In the 1990's, the state of Louisiana's Office of Youth Development (OYD) demonstrated tremendous leadership on the national stage through its reform efforts - namely, by reducing the number of youth incarcerated in the state's juvenile secure and non-secure care facilities and in reducing associated costs to taxpayers for these expensive and often ineffective services. In partnership with the MacArthur Foundation, OYD set its sights on becoming not only an agency that successfully reduces its census of incarcerated youth but also one that is truly a 'model for change' for the rest of the nation.

The state's plan to do this included the development of community-based, family-focused, and evidence-based programs, where at-risk and troubled youth and their families can realize the ultimate goal of the juvenile justice agency - rehabilitation of troubled youth, collaboration with their families, and partnership with local communities in helping these youth return to a life of productivity and personal achievement.

Needs Assessment
In 2007, OYD contracted with Evidence-Based Associates (EBA) to conduct a regional Needs Assesment for Region V. The purpose of this needs assessment was to support OYD in assessing the status of community-, family-, and evidence-based treatment services available for youth in one OYD service region, identifying gaps in available services, including strategies for identification of appropriate youth, and recommending evidence-based assessment and treatment practices that would be appropriate to the developmental and service needs of youth in that region, as a model for the rest of the state. The scope of this assessment included OYD Service Region V but excluded the 16th Judicial District due to coverage of that district by a pre-existing MacArthur "Models for Change" scope of service agreement. Region V was selected by OYD for this assessment due to the high rates of youth being placed in out-of-home (i.e., secure and non-secure care) settings as compared to expected rates based on population estimates.

This needs assessment was conducted in partnership with OYD leaders within Region V and surrounding communities. Strategies utilized to assess system needs included: site visits with local leaders in juvenile justice and community-based service providers; review of state mental health and juvenile justice reports; attendance at, and participation in, local planning board meetings; administration of standardized surveys of practices and attitudes about services; and focus group discussions with front-line probation staff.

Key Findings
After interviewing more than 130 local and state professionals involved with the legal process, treatment, and care of these youth, significant strengths but also considerable gaps in the current assessment and services array in this region of Louisiana were found, as follows:
  • Strong commitment on the part of OYD and other agencies (and foundations) who serve these youth to improve treatment services in OYD's care and to truly become a 'model for change' for the rest of the nation;
  • A recognition of research-supported criminogenic risk and resiliency factors related to delinquency (i.e., as evidenced by the high percentage of assessment tools that focus on family issues, school problems and peer relations);
  • A very favorable impression of evidence-based practices among community stakeholders (e.g., front-line probation officers and supervisors, OYD leaders including program specialists and the regional manager, judges, attorneys, and court-support services professionals involved with area youth);
  • A high percentage of local providers who expressed a willingness to adopt evidence-based practices if provided appropriate training and support to implement them.
However, EBA also found:
  • No standardized, evidence-based instruments for screening and assessment that are used in common practice
  • No common strategies for data storage, analysis and retrieval
  • Very few front-line staff who conduct screening and assessments (i.e., those charged with making front-end decisions regarding youth's need for services) have a formal education beyond high school or specialized training
  • No recognized evidence-based practices for moderate- or high-risk youth, using the University of Colorado's Blueprints Project standards for evidence-based practices for that population
Key Recommendations
Based on these results, it was recommended that the Office of Youth Development:
  1. Select an appropriate, standardized assessment tool
  2. Integrate statewide information systems/database management
  3. Implement evidence-based treatment programs as quickly and efficiently as possible
  4. Train staff/develop the local workforce
  5. Plan to rigorously evaluate new programs or the adaptation of proven programs
Project completed in June 2007.