Order Beyond the Court: Exploring the Community Support Team Program Through Realist Evaluation
Hart, Kristine A.
youth offenders, diversion, therapeutic alliance, ecological systems
Background: Since the inception of the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) in 2003, the number of youth entering the Canadian justice system has declined. This trend is in line with the YCJA’s key objectives to divert youth from the justice system through extrajudicial measures. There is limited evidence depicting the most appropriate ways in which community programs should address the youth justice cases being diverted to them. Further, there is no governing mandate to hold community programs accountable for the implementation of their programming, or evaluations to attribute success to their programs. The present study uses two primary theoretical frameworks—the Ecological Systems Theory and the Risk-Needs-Responsivity Model—to examine the mechanisms by which the program interventions operate and the extent to which they impact youth.. Methods: This study relied on secondary data from a community-based diversion program aimed at building skills to deter youth offenders at medium- to high-risk from reoffending through a tailored, case management approach. A realist approach was employed to evaluate how individual and environmental factors influence various youth identity groups differently with regards to achieving the intended outcomes. Chi Square, T-tests, and ANOVA were used to examine the research questions of this study. Results and discussion: Following participation in the program, study participants demonstrated high levels of therapeutic alliance and slight improvements in their ecological systems, however youth with stronger therapeutic alliance experienced weaker ecological systems. Relationship-building skills acted as a potential mechanism supporting the presence of strong ecological systems and presence of strong therapeutic alliance. Exposure to trauma was related to high levels of both therapeutic alliance and a strong ecological system, potentially moderating this relationship. No relationship was found between youth engagement in program activities and improved lagging skills, nor did social, emotional or executive functioning skills appear to affect youth engagement. Parental responsiveness and emotional regulation appear to act as potential mechanisms impacting the relationship between program engagement improvements in lagging skills. Findings from this study highlight the complex relationship between exposure to trauma and outcomes and the importance of emotional regulation and relationship-building skills as mechanisms leading to positive outcomes.