TNOYS staff recently had the opportunity to visit Bexar County Juvenile Probation Department facilities. We were accompanied by Chris Castillo from Roy Maas Meadowland and Krystle Ramsay and Cindy Marrs from Hill Country Youth Ranch, who are participating in our Creating a Culture of Care project, and LaQuinton Wagner, a youth advocate who works with TNOYS. LaQuinton draws from his own and his siblings’ juvenile justice and foster care experiences and regularly participates in TNOYS advocacy.
The site visit was part of an on-going TNOYS initiative to support youth service agencies in reducing their use of seclusion and restraint practices (S/R). We have been working with residential treatment centers (RTCs) to create “Cultures of Care” through the implementation of the 6 Core Strategies to Reduce the Use of Seclusion and Restraint Planning Tool, for the last three years. We chose to visit Bexar County Juvenile Probation Center as part of our initiative because the agency has been a pioneer in reducing seclusion and restraint practices in its juvenile justice facilities, and we wanted to see what we could learn that might translate to our work.
Mr. Michael Martinez, the Deputy Chief Probation Officer for Institution Services and Chair of the Texas Juvenile Justice Department’s subcommittee on de-escalation, led our tour and facilitated a presentation on his agency’s work to reduce seclusion and restraint. Mr. Martinez emphasized that the key to reducing S/R at his agency was changing the organizational culture, as illustrated in the triangle graphic he developed, below. The graphic illustrates the intervention continuum, in which strategies to prevent situations in which seclusion or restraint would need to be utilized are prioritized, non-physical interventions are utilized when needed, and physical interventions are only utilized as a last resort.
He also emphasized the importance of saturation, including through ongoing opportunities for professional development, so that staff have a diversity of tools to reduce S/R. This point was emphasized by a quote he shared from supervisor Nate Wilson, who stated that “if the only tool you have is a hammer, then all problems will look like a nail.”
Mr. Martinez showed us a powerful video in which a group of detention center residents tried to stage a coup and overtake staff in the facility. Instead of rushing to restrain the youth, which would have been the course of action immediately taken in most detention centers, Bexar County Probation staff worked together to talk to the youth and defuse the situation safely.
Another striking aspect of the tour and presentation was learning about the interdisciplinary teams utilized by Bexar County JJD. Youth workers, mental health specialists, and health care providers work together to learn one another’s methodologies for working with youth and to ensure cohesive approaches to their work. The teams attend weekly trainings together, thus furthering their development and efficacy as individuals and as a team.
TNOYS, our partners, and our youth advocates are looking forward to ongoing collaboration with Mr. Martinez and Bexar County to reduce the use of practices of seclusion and restraint.
-By Jessa Glick