This research describes an initial exploration of the phenomenon of caregivers’ learning of their child’s detention, an area of exploration that has little previous attention in the literature. This initial exploration was rooted in a desire to gain an understanding of the caregiver’s experience with both their family member (adjudicated juvenile) and the criminal justice system. A qualitative, phenomenological approach was used in this study to gain rich understanding into the lived experiences shared by twelve caregivers of youth being adjudicated in the juvenile justice system. Two overarching themes emerged from the data: 1) the system, with communication, fairness, and substitute parental provider as notable subthemes, and 2) the family, with family strength and relationship to support needs as a notable subtheme. Gaining insight into this critical point of family crisis has implications for intervention frameworks addressing family stability and support for long-term outcomes.

Key Take Away Points

  • Caregivers were in need of assistance in supporting these juveniles offenders
  • The juvenile justice system assisted these caregivers by providing needed support.
  • Caregivers acknowledged and accepted this assistance from the juvenile justice system.
  • Overall, the combination of the established caregiver and the temporary presence of the juvenile justice system worked together to act as parent and family to the offending juvenile.

Author Biography

Joshua Baldwin, PhD, MSW is an assistant professor at James Madison University. He received his doctorate from the University of Alabama from the School of Social Work with a focus on community re-integration with incarcerated populations. His teaching experience and research interests include: forensic social work, practice with individuals, and families and small groups.

Wesley T Church II, PhD, is an Associate Professor and Chair of the PhD program at the University of Alabama, School of Social Work. His current research interests are in the areas of juvenile justice, child welfare, and family systems.

Dr. Wharton is a National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) T32 Research Fellow with the Mental Health Services Outcomes and Translation Section in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Michigan. She completed her PhD at the University of Alabama School of Social Work, with a minor in Intervention Research and a focus on Gerontology, and has both a MSc in Evidence Based Social Intervention from Oxford University and a MEd in Counseling Psychology from Cambridge College. She has served as Adjunct Faculty at both University of Alabama and University of Michigan. As part of her postdoctoral fellowship, she is working towards completing a MSW with an IP Health focus, to expand her experience and knowledge base in the provision of health care services and chronic care management models.

Responses to this Article:

Traqina Emeka, Commentary on "The Familial Union between Caregivers and the Juvenile Justice System" (December 2013)