What is CoNEXTions?
CoNEXTions© is an integrated, system-wide rehabilitative program offering various therapeutic techniques and tools that are used to help individual TJJD youth. The name, CoNEXTions©, stems from the basic goal of the program – to prepare youth to take the NEXT step, to connect youth to healthy, law-abiding relationships with their peers, families, and communities. The name symbolizes the hope that once youth are properly connected with other people, they are in a better position to connect to their futures, or the NEXT phase of their lives, with an optimistic and realistic outlook.
The CoNEXTions Approach
The Traditional Approach
The TJJD Approach
- Establish control over offenders
- Fix youth problems with professional services
- Increase sanctions for anti-social behavior
- Connect youth with positive social forces and assets
- Draw on community resources to engage youth
- •Engage youth in pro-social activities and opportunities
CoNEXTions© focuses on two questions:
- What causes youth to come into the juvenile justice system? (risk factors)
- What keeps youth from returning to the system? (protective factors)
CoNEXTions© uses an evidence-based, automated assessment, the Positive Achievement Change Tool (PACT), to assess individual youth risk factors and protective factors. The PACT provides the foundation for designing individual treatment plans targeting skill building to reduce a youth’s risk factors and increase protective factors. The basic assumption of CoNEXTions© is that intense and system-wide implementation of thinking skills training and interventions specific to risk and protective factors will decrease recidivism and crime among youth in the program.
Risk and protective areas that are addressed include:
- Attitudes, values, and beliefs
- Influences and associations with people
- Effects of abuse of alcohol/drugs
- Personality traits
- Ability to control behavior
- Current family dynamics and supportive relationships within the family
- Academic/vocational achievement
- Use of leisure time
Assessment & Orientation
Upon admission to the TJJD assessment units, youth are assessed in multiple areas: mental health; education; vocation; and medical needs, and are evaluated for specialized treatment needs. Risk and protective factors are identified and an initial case plan is developed to begin targeting these factors. Youth are classified according to their committing offense and needs, designated a minimum length of stay, and are assigned to a placement dependent upon their rehabilitation needs, proximity to home, and risk level. During the assessment and orientation process, youth are introduced to a skills program – Thinking for a Change (T4C). Planning for transition/reintegration into the community begins during assessment and the plan is revised as the youth progresses while in TJJD.
General Rehabilitation Program
CoNEXTions© is an integration of programs within TJJD, including education and workforce development, and provides a comprehensive case plan of rehabilitation for each youth and addresses their specific needs. The Thinking for a Change (T4C) curriculum is woven into daily interactions between youth and staff members, with “thinking reports” used to process problems when they arise. Four times each week, youth attend structured skills groups that target risk factors and help youth develop or improve the skills they need to live successfully in their communities. One day each week, youth participate in a skills application group. In this group, youth have an opportunity to discuss and practice new skills, thereby increasing protective factors in those areas. These skills include: communicating effectively with others, managing emotions, evaluating their alcohol and drug use decisions, problem solving, family living skills, and making wise choices/decisions.
Required Supplemental Groups
In addition to attending skills groups, youth may be required to attend other types of groups which assist them in areas of special needs. Required supplemental groups are conducted up to four times per week and target specific risk factors, focusing on areas such as anger management, alcohol and other drug education, mental health support, and psycho-sexual development.
Specialized Treatment Programs
Specialized treatment is provided for youth identified as having a significant need in a specific area. The specialized treatment programs are: Capital and Serious Violent Offender Treatment Program, Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment, Mental Health Treatment Program, and Sexual Behavior Treatment Program. In these programs, youth receive treatment services from specially trained or licensed staff and participate in programming that is designed around their specific needs in that target area. Youth in specialized treatment programs receive ongoing support and staff receive specialized training to maintain the advanced skills and knowledge needed to work with special-needs populations.
Leisure Skills Building Groups
Leisure Skills Building Groups are held on weekends and evenings and are offered by staff, volunteers or professionals with an interest and training in the chosen topic: money management, guitar lessons, painting, sculpting, etc. These groups provide the youth additional opportunities that are not solely focused on rehabilitation, but target the building of pro-social leisure skills.
Family involvement and interaction is encouraged and supported. Each facility has unique strategies for increasing family involvement, including educational workshops, open house meetings, family day activities, multi-disciplinary team meetings, and facility orientations. Families are encouraged to be actively involved in developing their youth’s community re-integration plan. At all facilities, visits and letters are encouraged and welcomed. Multi-family conferences are held quarterly to assist parents and guardians to understand and support youth in the TJJD facilities. In addition to the case plan, the family is provided a written overview of the youth’s progress every 90 days.
Education, Vocational Training & Workforce Development
The educational needs of each youth are individualized and supportive of the youth’s goals. Youth are provided the opportunity to improve basic academic skills, particularly reading and math, and to work toward earning their high school diploma and/or a GED. Workforce Development programs offer employment preparation and reintegration services in both facilities and aftercare. The vocational goals are gender sensitive and provide both traditional and non-traditional programming. Vocational programs are aligned with industry standards and certifications where possible. Teachers, with the assistance of juvenile correctional officers, use classroom management skills that provide an environment favorable to learning for all youth.
Multi-Disciplinary Team and Case Planning
Youth are evaluated monthly by a multidisciplinary team, which consists of their case manager, an assigned educator, and juvenile correctional officers, who work with the youth on a regular basis. Medical input is provided to ensure any medical issues are properly addressed in daily living and in case planning. Parents are also invited to participate in the monthly multi-disciplinary team meeting. The multi-disciplinary team formally reassesses a youth’s progress each month, changing case plan objectives as needed to meet the individual youth’s needs, targeting specific skills to develop, and assessing their overall “stage” in CoNEXTions©.
Evaluating progress – Stages of CoNEXTions©
Progression through CoNEXTions© is measured through five stages, beginning with Stage 1 and ending with Youth Empowerment Status (YES). The youth’s stage assignment reflects the stage objectives on which the youth is currently working. Once those objectives are completed, the youth is promoted to the next stage. Each stage has objectives for the youth to complete that will assist with the following outcomes:
- increase understanding of personal risk and protective factors and how those relate to success/lack of success in the community;
- movement toward developing a concrete community reintegration plan; and
- engagement of the youth’s family in programming; and
- understanding how the youth’s committing offense was related to risk factors, including their underlying attitudes, values and beliefs.
The youth’s consistent and active participation in all areas of programming – development and completion of case plan objectives, groups, specialized treatment programs (if applicable), academic and workforce development programs, and consistent application of learned skills in daily behavior is also required for stage promotion.
Positive Behavior Change System
The Positive Behavior Change System (PBCS) is designed to bring out the best in youth, offering them strong incentives to behave in ways that contribute to a safe, therapeutic culture. At the same time, youth learn skills which help them solve problems and manage emotions that can lead to negative behaviors. All staff and youth are expected to follow five basic rules:
- Be in the right place at the right time;
- Follow directions;
- Participate in activities;
- Respect others; and
- Accept consequences.
Youth are provided a daily rating of their performance in following the five basic rules. Aside from privileges awarded to youth based on their progress in the stages of CoNEXTions©, youth may receive additional privileges based upon their daily and weekly performance ratings. These ratings also contribute to evaluating the youth’s stage progression.
Youth who reach and maintain the highest stage, Youth Empowerment Status (YES), and meet other objective release criteria are considered to have successfully completed the program. These youth are released from high restriction facilities under the authority of the local administrator. Youth who do not achieve YES, and who are not committed to TJJD with a determinate sentence (a sentence of up to 40 years imposed by the court), may still be released to the community after completion of their minimum length of stay. The Release Review Panel (RRP) reviews these youth. If the RRP determines the youth has no rehabilitative needs requiring continued confinement to a residential facility, the RRP authorizes the youth’s release to parole or discharge the youth from TJJD supervision.
Community Re-entry and Parole
Community re-entry planning begins upon admission to TJJD. As youth near completion of their minimum lengths of stay, case managers, parole officers, youth and their parents or guardians formalize individualized transition plans. These plans include all of the elements required for the youth to be successful upon return to the community. Youth must engage in productive activity once in the community and continue to reduce risk factors and increase protective factors. They receive help and support from not only their parole officers, but from re-entry teams which include family and educational liaisons, workforce development specialists, and other community resource providers. This ensures the needs of youth and families, especially those exhibiting high or multiple needs, are addressed.
Roles in CoNEXTions©
Simply put, CoNEXTions© is the “way we do business” in TJJD. Therefore, every staff member, every family member, every volunteer and every youth has a role to play in CoNEXTions© and in the success of youth committed to the Texas Youth Commission. TJJD staff promote a “CoNEXTions© Culture” by:
- Practicing/Modeling the five basic rules
- Participating actively in multi-disciplinary teams
- Asking youth about their community re-integration plan
- Coaching youth according to their individual risk and protective factors
- Setting limits by giving youth options paired with consequences
- Using “thinking reports” when problems arise
- Modeling partnership, teamwork and effective communication
- Proactively engaging families and volunteers
- Celebrating positive accomplishments, emphasizing educational achievement
- Using the common language of CoNEXTions©