Juvenile Justice Bulletin --July 2000 --Lessons Learned: Factors Facilitating and Impeding Implementation

Lessons Learned: Factors Facilitating and Impeding Implementation

IAP implementation experience to date has brought out several issues that are instructive for the field. This section highlights factors—both positive and negative—that have influenced implementation across the IAP sites.

Facilitating Factors

Following are some of the key factors that facilitated initial program implementation.

  • A real need addressed. Site staff believed that the IAP model addressed a real need. Staff also believed that IAP had the potential to alleviate many of the pressing aftercare issues the sites were experiencing, including high recidivism and recommitment rates, minimal or disjointed interventions, and political pressure to do something about serious juvenile offenders. From the sites' perspective, the model was not just some new programmatic "add on," but a new way of doing business. In addition, IAP had a strong conceptual appeal to administrators and staff, who thought the model made practical sense and who wanted to make it work.18

  • Design flexibility. By specifying underlying program principles rather than a detailed program design, the model allowed each of the sites to adapt the approach to local circumstances. The high degree of flexibility in model design was a major selling point for local administrators in their decision to proceed with implementation. Further, giving administrators and staff the authority and responsibility for determining exactly what the model would look like at the local level helped ensure a high level of commitment to the resulting program.

  • A long-term perspective. The long-term view and multiyear funding provided by OJJDP gave the sites time to implement a complex project. In spite of its conceptual appeal, implementation was not a simple undertaking. Instead, building and refining the model was an incremental, often experimental, multiyear process. OJJDP's long-term perspective, however, gave the sites sufficient time and resources to implement the model.

  • Expert technical assistance. The ongoing training and technical assistance provided by Drs. Altschuler and Armstrong were indispensable sources of external support for the projects. They brought a high level of energy, commitment, and expertise to the sites. Their expertise was critical, particularly because the details and nuances of the model's practical application cannot be gleaned from publications or traditional experience. Drs. Altschuler and Armstrong provided multiple well-received training sessions, offered highly responsive support, promoted cross-site learning experiences, suggested practical alternatives for dealing with implementation problems, and generally nurtured IAP program development.

  • Internal and external support. Colorado, Nevada, and Virginia developed external and internal support by garnering cooperation from high-level decisionmakers from related agencies, managers of various operational units (e.g., institutions, parole), supervisors, and line staff. The sites used a variety of mechanisms to gain support, but essentially they gave these people a role in planning and/or ongoing program development. Particularly important was the building of internal support at the IAP line level by continuously involving staff in program development and implementation-related decisionmaking.

  • Committed leadership. There was committed and strong program leadership at the operations level. The source of this leadership varied by site, but each had program leaders who thoroughly understood and were committed to the model, promoted the IAP "cause," aggressively addressed problems in implementation, and generally worked hard to make the program successful. In New Jersey, the weakening of the project coincided with a period when the IAP leadership position was vacant and then was assumed by staff who were unable to devote sufficient time and attention to IAP because of their additional responsibilities.19

  • Sufficient staff resources. Colorado, Nevada, and Virginia all dedicated sufficient staff resources to the project. Caseloads were about half the size of those handled by traditional staff. Although this represented a substantial investment of personnel, this investment was necessary to enable the sites to deal intensively with high-risk youth with multiple problems and also necessary to allow parole staff to assume significant responsibilities for youth during the institutional phase.

  • Access to specialized grant funds. The sites had access to specialized grant funds. All the sites used some portion of their OJJDP grants to help enrich services for IAP youth. Colorado, Nevada, and Virginia also had access to a much larger amount of specialized State juvenile corrections subsidy money that allowed them to significantly broaden their access to community services. Although these funds were not only targeted to IAP youth, the projects used them as important supplementary funding that helped make IAP implementation fuller.

  • Preexisting agency relationships. In Colorado and Virginia, preexisting agency relationships with community resources (e.g., Colorado's service provider network) directly affected the level of implementation achieved in those sites. Rather than having to start from scratch in building a network of service providers, they were able to build upon already existing relationships to access a wide range of services for IAP youth. In contrast, Nevada and New Jersey did not have these strong prior connections, and while both sites developed access to several new resources, their range of services and ease of access remained more limited than in Colorado and Virginia.

Contacts and Services During the Transition Period

To more closely examine the transition process, NCCD has conducted analyses of the extent of contacts and services during the months immediately preceding and following a youth's release from the institution. The central question is whether and to what extent service delivery is intensified for IAP youth during this transition period. The analysis divided the entire correctional intervention into four distinct and mutually exclusive phases:

  • The institutional phase.

  • The institutional transition phase, which is the 30 days (Nevada, Virginia) or 60 days (Colorado) immediately prior to release.

  • The community transition phase, which is the first 30 days on parole in the community.

  • The aftercare phase.

The analysis used only the subsample of study youth who have already been released to aftercare.1 Selected findings to date are briefly summarized below. These data indicate that the IAP programs are in fact focusing on the transition period, especially the first month of aftercare, and that contacts and services are substantially more intensive for IAP youth during this time.

Contacts

The figure compares the Virginia IAP and control groups on the frequency of monthly face-to-face contact between youth and parole officers during each of the four program phases. The data show that there is a slight increase in contacts for IAP—but not control—youth between the institutional and institutional transition phases (i.e., the 30 days prior to release). But in each of these first two phases, there is no substantial difference between the groups in the frequency of contact. However, the frequency of contact for IAP youth increases dramatically during the first month of aftercare, and there is a major difference between IAP and controls during this period. The increased frequency is to be expected, as the youth are back in Norfolk, but the magnitude of the contacts and the differences between IAP and controls suggest a strong programmatic focus on this key transition period. During the ensuing months of aftercare in Virginia, the frequency of contact drops slightly but still remains far greater than that which occurs for control youth. Nevada and Colorado data showed similar, but less dramatic, patterns of increased contact during the transition periods.

Services

Data on the percentage of IAP youth who are provided various types of services during the first month of aftercare (see table) also support the notion of intensified services for IAP youth during the community transition period. In Colorado, there are several service areas (employment, counseling, substance abuse) in which a larger percentage of IAP than control youth are involved during the first month of aftercare. Similarly, in Nevada and Virginia, a substantially larger percentage of IAP youth are involved in education, mental health/counseling, substance abuse services, and life skills programming.


1 The youth used for these analyses (1) had been released from the institutions, (2) had a valid release date available, and (3) had complete data forms for the month(s) preceding or following the release date. The samples are smaller for this analysis than in the rest of the Bulletin. As a result, there will be some differences between the contacts and services data shown here and those shown elsewhere in this Bulletin.

Barriers to Implementation

There also were several cross-site factors that impeded IAP implementation.

  • Unstable operating environments. At various times and to varying degrees, all the sites attempted to implement the projects in the face of major and/or frequent changes in their organizational environments. These changes affected the level of support and attention afforded the pilots and sometimes disrupted important relationships or operating procedures. Nevada, for example, faced not only several administrative changes but also a major reorganization of the agency during the second year of implementation. In Virginia, the introduction of the LEADER program and a massive rebuilding project at Beaumont required almost all the attention of that facility's key managers for more than 18 months. Finally, New Jersey had to contend—ultimately unsuccessfully—with two major reorganizations and the revamping of the entire parole system.

  • Competing agency priorities. Related to the impediment described above were the size of the pilots and competing agency priorities. Unstable environments or not, the IAP projects were small relative to the general institutional and aftercare populations (e.g., 15 to 30 youth in institutions that house between 200 and 500 juveniles). In spite of the appeal of IAP and general support for the project, agency administrators and managers in all the sites had to deal with much larger issues on a day-to-day basis. These issues often drew managers' attention away from IAP-related concerns and likely reduced the amount of proactive support and routine involvement that they may otherwise have given the pilots. On the other hand, the size of the pilots may have protected them from the kind of negative attention that could arise in conjunction with larger program initiatives.

  • Crowding and aggressive diversion practices. In all four sites, institutional crowding was (and is) a major problem. In Colorado and New Jersey, the corrections agencies were very aggressive in trying to divert as many youth as possible from secure facilities to private beds (Colorado) or smaller, less secure State-run facilities (New Jersey). In Virginia, substantial diversion was occurring at the local (Norfolk) court level after the introduction of a series of programs designed as alternatives to incarceration. The result in all three sites was (1) a reduction in the number of youth who were eligible for IAP, (2) lower-than-expected program enrollments, and (3) a "hardening" of the IAP target population. In other words, high-risk youth with better prospects were placed in alternative programs, while the most difficult remained at the secure institution.20

  • Staff selection and training. In Nevada, New Jersey, and Virginia, the IAP parole officers all had difficulty making the adjustment from traditional styles of supervision to what was envisioned by IAP. Although these problems were eventually overcome, they slowed implementation in the aftercare phase and created considerable stress. In part, this was a staff selection issue. Some of the sites assumed that the most experienced staff would make the best IAP case managers because of their experience, knowledge, and skills. There also were personnel rules that either gave priority to or required preference for veteran staff over other new hires. However, some of these staff had fairly entrenched notions of how to "do" supervision, and it was often an office-bound, 9-to-5, traditional approach.21 A lack of appropriate or sufficient staff training in how to do the "nuts and bolts" of intensive supervision also contributed to these problems.

  • Staff turnover and vacancies. While all the sites experienced some turnover, it was a significant problem only in New Jersey. The entire IAP staff and all staff in positions directly related to IAP operations turned over (some, multiple times) in a 15-month period between the summer of 1996 and the fall of 1997. This led to enormous program instability and an absence of any people with strong roots in the model during the time that New Jersey was making efforts to put its program back on track. The staff vacancy issue loomed large in Nevada and Virginia. In those sites, key staff positions became vacant and went unfilled for extended periods. These vacancies meant that there were significant cracks in the service delivery system. Consequently, vacancies have hurt the overall level of implementation in those sites.

  • Distance between the community and the institution. In Nevada and Virginia, IAP youth were housed 2 to 3 hours' driving time from the community and the aftercare offices. This presented a challenge to aftercare staff's efforts to maintain a routine schedule of institutional visits, required considerable expenditures of time, and impeded efforts to involve family members in the visits. Conversely, the Colorado institution is approximately 20 to 30 minutes away from the community, and this close proximity facilitated frequent visits to the institution by case managers, parents, and treatment providers. The success of IAP in Virginia and Nevada, however, indicated that geography was a problematic, though not an insurmountable, barrier.


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Implementation of the Intensive Community-Based Aftercare Program Juvenile Justice Bulletin July 2000