What are the benefits of family visitation for crossover youth?

An effective model of practice for crossover youth — youth who sit at the intersection of the child welfare and juvenile justice systems — has at its core increased family engagement and family voice in decision-making.1 One way to strengthen family engagement involves frequent, consistent, and meaningful visits with family. This resource list provides the highlights from recent research articles and reports relevant to increasing family engagement through visitation, as well as jurisdictional examples of guidance and other materials intended to encourage effective family visitation for crossover youth. This information was originally requested as a resource for judicial partners who were considering restricting or suspending family visits as a method of punishment for youthful offenses or as a consequence to acting out behaviors while in detention.

The evidence base

Families and supportive adults play an important role in young people’s lives. Strategies aimed at strengthening family engagement can help crossover youth throughout all stages of their involvement in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems. Research and best practice guidance highlight a number of benefits of child-family visitation during treatment or detention,2 including improved mental health functioning, better educational performance, stronger motivation for change, increased likelihood of reunification, and decreased re-entry or recidivism. More specifically, research emphasized that:

  • Youth who have frequent visits from their parents during detention show a more rapid decline in depressive symptoms than their peers who receive fewer visits3
  • Incarcerated youth who receive frequent visits from their families often get better grades and have fewer violent incidents while in placement4
  • Visits with family can help decrease recidivism for youth involved in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems5
  • Parental visits during detention have positive protective effects regardless of the quality of the parent-youth relationship6

Jurisdictional examples

The resources below provides a range of guidance, tools, and other materials from jurisdictions that reflect the critical element of family visitation for crossover youth in out-of-home treatment or detention.

Selected resources

Honorable Jolene Grubb Kopriva, Report to the Pennsylvania State Roundtable: “Visitation is a right, not a privilege” (2013)
Key Themes: 
Visitation highly correlates to reunification and is a right, not a privilege, for children and youth in foster care.

Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, Juvenile Facilities Strive to Foster ‘Family Engagement’ (2014)
Key Themes: Fostering family engagement improves incarcerated youths’ behavior, helps families feel more connected, reduces disciplinary incidents, and boosts the staff morale. Strengthening these connections better prepares youth for a return to the community upon release and reduces repeat offenses.

Massachusetts Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, Family Engagement in Juvenile Justice (2014)
Key Themes: Genuine family involvement and engagement is vital to achieving positive long-term outcomes for the vulnerable youth in the justice system.

Minnesota Department of Human Services, Child and Family Visitation: A Practice Guide to Support Lasting Reunification and Preserving Family Connections for Children in Foster Care (2009)
Key Themes: Visitation is essential for a child’s well-being, fundamental to permanency, and vital to a child maintaining family relationships and cultural connections.

New Mexico Children’s Court Improvement Commission, Child Protection Best Practices Bulletin: Parent-Child Visitation (2011)
Key Themes: Quality parent-child visitation in the context of a reunification plan results in shorter foster care placement.

Pennsylvania Council of Chief Juvenile Probation Officers, Family Involvement in Pennsylvania’s Juvenile Justice System (2009)
Key Themes: Family visitation should not be used as reward or punishment, but should instead be regarded as an essential and necessary tool for effective intervention and treatment.

Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, Child and Family Visitation Best Practice Guide (2015)
Key Themes: Visitation and family contact should never be used as a reward or punishment, but should always be considered a right of families and children.

Vera Institute of Justice, Families as Partners: Supporting Incarcerated Youth in Ohio (2012)
Key Themes: Incarcerated youth who received more visits reported feeling happier with their relationships and more connected and committed to family members. As a result of the project, facilities changed their policies to make it easier for young people to maintain important family relationships.


1 Shanahan, R., & diZerega, M. (2016). Identifying, engaging, and empowering families: A charge for juvenile justice agencies. New York, Vera Institute for Justice. Retrieved from https://storage.googleapis.com/vera-web-assets/downloads/Publications/identifying-engaging-and-empowering-families-a-charge-for-juvenile-justice-agencies/legacy_downloads/family-engagement-for-juvenile-justice-agencies.pdf
2 Ibid.
3 Monahan, K.C., Goldweber, A., and Cauffman, E. (2011). The Effects of Visitation on Incarcerated Juvenile Offenders: How Contact with the Outside Impacts Adjustment on the Inside. Journal of Law and Human Behavior, 35(2), 143-151.
4 Villalo, A. S. (2013). The Impact of Family Visitation on Incarcerated Youth’s Behavior and School Performance: Findings from the Families as Partners Project. New York: Vera Institute of Justice. Retrieved from https://storage.googleapis.com/vera-web-assets/downloads/Publications/the-impact-of-family-visitation-on-incarcerated-youths-behavior-and-school-performance-findings-from-the-families-as-partners-project/legacy_downloads/impact-of-family-visitation-on-incarcerated-youth-brief.pdf
5 Osgood, D. W., Foster, E. M., Flanagan, C., and Ruth, G. R. (2005). On your own without a net: The transition to adulthood for vulnerable populations. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
6 Monahan, K.C., Goldweber, A., and Cauffman, E. (2011). The Effects of Visitation on Incarcerated Juvenile Offenders: How Contact with the Outside Impacts Adjustment on the Inside. Journal of Law and Human Behavior, 35(2), 143-151.


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