In Prince George’s County, the need for further supervision of juveniles has led  Maryland’s Department of Juvenile Services (DJS) to expand its multisystemic therapy program — an intensive , family-based intervention project designed to address adjudicated youths and derelict behavior.

While there were only five slots available for the program, a study conducted by the Advocates for Children and Youth (ACY) concluded that at least another 58 spaces were needed for local adolescents and children.

“There’s a population of youth in our system that we indentified and , through their research, identified as ideal candidates for multisystemic therapy,” said Jay Cleary, director of communications for DJS.  “That expansion was necessary to meet all of the needs of the candidates.”

ACY officials are pleased with the approach DJS is taking to the expansion and say the results speak for themselves.

“The program is proven to have very successful outcomes for youths in the juvenile justice system,” said Angela Conyers Johnese, ACY director of Juvenile Justice.   “It decreases the likelihood of future delinquency, criminal justice involvement and mental health issues.  It increases school involvement and basically, it helps the youth and family get on a more positive track.”

Officials say the program’s inclusive family component makes it unique, as children and their families receive assistance in the privacy of their own homes.

“It actually treats both the youth and the families, especially the parents or legal guardian,” said Cleary.  “The main focus is skill-building. It is developing those skills so that the youth can work with the parent and the parent can work with the youth.  It improves communication and ability to resolve disputes.”

Children in the program and their families are assigned a therapist who works personally with the family.  The therapist is made accessible to the family 24 hours a day and seven days a week. “If the family is in crisis or the child is acting out, they can call this person to help with an intervention,” Johnese said.  “That may mean coming to the home and down with all of the parties to help them communicate better to figure out what exactly is going on to cause the problem and helping to develop good solutions.”

But multisystemic therapy is not an overnight treatment option, as it can take months to years for the youths and families to matriculate through the program.  Officials say encouraging statistics indicate the program’s efficacy. 

However, the governor’s office looks at three indicators when judging the success of the program: the percentage of youths living at home, the percentage of youths in school or working, and the percentage of youths with no new arrests.  Community Counseling and Mentoring Services, the provider of the program in Prince George’s County, has shown a 90 percent success rate in all three areas.

The program has not been expanded to other jurisdictions in Maryland, but DJS officials are open to exploring the possibility.

“We’re always reviewing areas that may have increased needs, but just in the immediate future, we haven’t identified any areas yet,” said Cleary.  “We’re always looking and we do want to increase the range of our program.  It’s our ultimate goal, but it’s an ongoing process.”

To date, there are plans to increase the current slots for therapy by 20 for a total of 25 by June.  There have been no announcements of any further expansion plans.


George Barnette

Special to the AFRO