Early assessments and engagement with partners, parents/guardians, and other family members can reveal strengths that may enhance the transition and reentry process, and needs (e.g., domestic violence, substance abuse, parenting skills deficits, mental health problems) that may interfere with it. To address these concerns, family members should be linked to relevant treatment and other supportive resources prior to release. For example, because intimacy deficits and conflicts in intimate relationships are associated with recidivism for adult sex offenders (see, e.g., Hanson & Morton–Bourgon, 2005), couples or marital therapy may be a very important consideration to address in the transition plan.
Engaging juvenile sex offenders’ family members early in placement is critical to effective transition and reentry, as the presence of a healthy, well–functioning family is an important protective factor associated with reductions in recidivism (see, e.g., Henggeler, Schoenwald, Borduin, Rowland, & Cunningham, 1998; Lipsey & Wilson, 1998; Loeber & Farrington, 1998). With a modest investment of time and effort, and some resourcefulness, it is possible to involve families early in the process and in constructive ways. It may be helpful for practitioners to consider the following strategies to partner with parents:
- Work collaboratively with parents to identify common ground and common goals to empower them to be a part of the “solutions” to the challenges associated with transition and reentry;
- Make family therapy an expectation in the context of transition planning rather than an easy “option” to decline;
- Ensure that family–based interventions are presented as activities that will be done collaboratively “with” the family and not “to” them;
- Incorporate therapeutic activities into facility visits;
- Provide parenting skills classes, and education and support groups outside of normal business hours; and
- Offer transportation when necessary.
During the transition planning process, practitioners must take into account the impact that the return of adult and juvenile sex offenders to the community will have on partners, parents, and other family members. For example, registration and community notification practices can place undue public scrutiny on families and sex offender residency restrictions may force families to relocate from established, stable homes (see, e.g., Bumby et al., in press; CSOM, 2007; Levenson & Cotter, 2005a, 2005b; Tewksbury, 2005). Ideally, therefore, treatment providers and others should work with sex offenders and their families during the transition planning process to develop strategies to prepare for and cope with these challenges.
As adult and juvenile sex offenders approach release, issues related to family reunification are likely to arise. Reunification involving offenders who victimized children warrants specific and very careful consideration during the transition planning process (see, e.g., Bengis et al., 1999; CSOM, 2005; Cumming & McGrath, 2005; Scott, 1997; Spencer, 1999; Thomas, 2004). Agency policies should ensure that practitioners balance the potential benefits of reunification against the possible risks involved. To make certain that reunification efforts are addressed appropriately, a standard protocol must be in place. It should be developed collaboratively with a range of relevant stakeholders (e.g., guardian ad–litems, child welfare professionals, juvenile/family court representatives, victim advocates, family therapists, sex offender treatment providers, community supervision officers) and emphasize the need to initiate reunification considerations well in advance of release. When family reunification is determined to be an appropriate course of action, clear, consistent, and ongoing communication among the multi–disciplinary partners involved in the process is essential for protecting victim safety throughout the transition and community reintegration process (CSOM, 2005).
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