Community Collaboration That Stops Juvenile Crime Before It Happens

Lives and futures in Alabama are being saved by an innovative approach that stops juvenile crime before it happens.

The Helping Families Initiative is saving lives, protecting futures, curtailing illegal drug use, cutting school dropout rates, improving school teaching environments and promising citizens relief from future soaring incarceration costs and other crime-related expenses as it slows the flow of people into crime.


Applied at the local level, and based on Alabama education laws that have been on the books for more than 70 years, Helping Families is a community-based, comprehensive way local leaders can help multiple agencies (law enforcement, public and private social agencies, schools and volunteers) work together to help youth on the verge of trouble and coordinate their efforts. It results in agencies teaming up to provide combinations of services that meet the needs of the youth and family as it elicits extraordinary efforts from social workers, educators, police officers and volunteers.

Alabama education law (and education law in most other states), holds parents and guardians responsible for school attendance and behavior and requires superintendents to report infractions to district attorneys who must take action to stop them.

Until the advent of Helping Families, it was difficult for schools to do more than suspend misbehaving students and district attorneys to do more than level fines against their parents and guardians.

Today, Helping Families helps educators and district attorneys meet the real need: stopping bad behavior by solving the problems that lead to it.

The key to Helping Families success is its collaboration process. It equips district attorneys, law enforcement officers, educators, parents, public and private social agencies and volunteers with a shared goal: identifying young people at risk of losing their futures through criminal activities and applying existing resources to help them make good choices so potential crimes do not happen. Communications barriers between agencies are removed and associates are encouraged to contribute new ideas and efforts.

Young people enter the process by self-identifying themselves through truancy and /or school suspensions for serious discipline problems and other risky behaviors. Their needs (and their family’s needs) are assessed by the North Carolina Assessment Criteria and by a multidisciplinary team. Their needs are met with combinations of services from a full range of agencies that open opportunities for them to use their abilities to build productive lives.

Results are impressive. Results benefit individual young people, families, schools and entire communities as youngsters decide not to participate in illegal drug use or other crime. Juvenile crime is stopped before it happens. Before young people become criminals and before citizens are victimized.

In one school district 80 percent of students suspended from school for serious discipline problems that then completed Helping Families coordinated services were not suspended again over the following 12 months.

Another school system reported their 10 percent dropout rate was cut by 70 percent. Only a five percent increase in male high school graduation rates is estimated to save Alabama $82 million in annual incarceration costs and crime-related expenditures.

Sixty-seven percent of the families completing the program showed improvements in family functioning, especially in the category of child well-being. Youth and families involved in the program also showed significant improvements in environmental, parental capability, family interactions and family safety.

These results produce improved grades, behavior and attendance as well as higher high school graduation rates. Most importantly, potential crimes do not happen, schools are safer and learning opportunities increase for all students.

Helping Families is available to all Alabama communities. Internal and public communication tools and management software are provided. Communication tools include videos on issues such as relations between young people and law enforcement, safety guidelines for encounters with law enforcement and the dangers of trying illegal opiate pain pills and heroin just one time. The software maintains confidentiality while increasing productivity especially between agencies.

An introduction to Helping Families is available to Alabama district attorneys, police chiefs, sheriffs, school superintendents, mayors, county commissioners and other community leaders.

Upcoming Events

4th Annual Child Advocacy Day
VOICES for Alabama’s Children
Montgomery, AL
March 16, 2017
“Helping Families Initiative”
Alabama District Attorneys Association
Fairhope, AL
April 6–9, 2017
“Next Generation of K-12 Indicator and response Systems to Increase Students’ Post-Secondary Readiness and Persistence”
A Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation supported initiative, sponsored by the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University
Baltimore, Maryland
May 1–3, 2017
“Getting Better at Getting Better”
Carnegie Foundation Summit on Improvement in Education
San Francisco, CA
March 26–30, 2017
“Breaking Down Barriers — Humanity Matters”
National Association of Social Workers — Alabama
Bryant Conference Center
Tuscaloosa, AL
April 24–25, 2017