WHAT IS AN ASSESSMENT CENTER?

Assessment Centers aim to prevent and divert youth from juvenile justice and child welfare systems through a single point of entry which identifies underlying issues contributing to concerning behavior and partners with youth and families to access individualized services and/or resources.  This occurs by means of intervention in schools, at point of or after arrest, at the request of parents/caregivers, or through partnerships with other community stakeholders. Through in-depth interviews and validated screening and assessment tools, centers work to understand the barriers youth and families are experiencing at home, school, or in the community.  Following assessment, Centers partner with the youth and family to access individualized resources and services to help overcome barriers and, ultimately, create a stable environment where they can thrive.  When appropriate, centers coordinate with educational, social service, and justice agencies to provide a holistic view of the family’s and youth’s strengths and needs.  Assessment Centers are based on their local community needs and work in one or more of the following domains:

Juvenile Justice

When youth come into contact with law enforcement either through an arrest, summons, or status offense, assessment centers become the first point of contact.  Centers conduct in-depth interviews and utilize validated screening and assessment tools to help identify needs, strengths, safety concerns, and other underlying issues.  These underlying issues can include but are not limited to trauma, mental health, family issues, substance use, lack of basic needs, and human trafficking.  Information gathered through the assessments help centers coordinate release, make recommendations for diversion from the juvenile justice system, and/or inform courts or other stakeholders of strengths and needs.  Centers may directly help youth and families connect to individualized services/resources or coordinate connection with pretrial and probation departments.

Child Welfare

Concerning behavior can stem from trauma within the home.  Assessment Centers partner with child welfare organizations both preventatively and as an intervention to identify the underlying issues affecting the youth and family.  Centers conduct an in-depth assessment and utilize evidence-based screening tools to determine risk factors, trauma, safety needs, mental health, family issues, substance use, lack of basic needs, human trafficking, etc.  Information gathered through the assessments help centers create opportunities to strengthen families and support individuals by focusing on intervention, and prevention efforts, coupled with delivering enhanced services and building stronger connections for youth and families with community partners. The primary focus is on youth and families to ensure they receive the care, custody, services and resources that will best serve the child’s well-being, along with recognizing the child’s relationship with their family as an integral part of this process.

Prevention

Usually, concerning behavior has been identified before a youth comes into contact with law enforcement either by parents/caregivers, school staff, or others in the community.  Assessment centers partner with parents/caregivers to provide in-depth assessments and connection to services/resources when they may be struggling the behaviors at home.  They partner with schools by providing in-depth assessments and connection to services/resources as an alternative or in conjunction with disciplinary actions (referrals, expulsions, suspensions), as a response to truancy, or simply when school personnel may have concerns.  Finally, other community stakeholders or partners may refer a youth or family to an assessment center.  Examples of other stakeholders are youth-serving organizations, faith-based communities, coaches, etc.  The early intervention provided by assessment centers helps prevent the need for law enforcement and/or child welfare involvement.