Case study of juvenile private placement

Material Information

Case study of juvenile private placement
Purl, Valarie Anne
Publication Date:
Physical Description:
v, 51 leaves : ; 28 cm

Thesis/Dissertation Information

Master's ( Master of Arts)
Degree Grantor:
University of Colorado Denver
Degree Divisions:
Department of Sociology, CU Denver
Degree Disciplines:
Committee Chair:
Duran-Aydintug, Candan
Committee Co-Chair:
Flaming, Karl
Committee Members:
Haar, Andrea


Subjects / Keywords:
Juvenile justice, Administration of -- Case studies -- Colorado -- Denver ( lcsh )
Juvenile corrections -- Case studies -- Colorado -- Denver ( lcsh )
Social work with juvenile delinquents -- Case studies -- Colorado -- Denver ( lcsh )
Juvenile corrections ( fast )
Juvenile justice, Administration of ( fast )
Social work with juvenile delinquents ( fast )
Colorado -- Denver ( fast )
Case studies. ( fast )
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )
Case studies ( fast )


Includes bibliographical references (leaves 49-51).
General Note:
Department of Sociology
Statement of Responsibility:
by Valarie Anne Purl.

Record Information

Source Institution:
|University of Colorado Denver
Holding Location:
|Auraria Library
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
71754298 ( OCLC )
LD1193.L66 2006m P87 ( lcc )

Full Text
Case Study of Juvenile Private Placement
Valarie Anne Purl
B.A., State University of New York at Cortland, 1996
A thesis submitted to the University of Colorado at Denver
For fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts, Sociology

This thesis for the Master of Arts, Sociology
degree by
Valarie Anne Purl
has been approved
Andrea Haar

Pirl, Valarie Anne ( M.A., Sociology)
Case Study of At Risk Private Placement
Tfl esis directed by Associate Professor Candan Duran-Aydintug
'ft ere are several types and formats of juvenile placements both private and public. This
article looks at what changes have occurred in juvenile justice and under what
circumstances privatization of the juvenile system works and under what criteria is it
sji xessful. I look at a private placement to see if it meets criteria in the research to be a
sh xessful program in reducing recidivism and serving its clients with an effective
program. The case study provides a historical ten year period in which I was employed
aji 1 the observations that I have made.
Th s abstract accurately represents the content of the candidate's thesis. I recommend its
Candan Duran-Aydintug

I dedicate this thesis to my parents for their support and encouragement. I also want to
die iicate to all of the VisionQuest youth and staff I have had the pleasure to work with
an 1 learn.

1. INTRODUCTION..........-------------
! 4. RISK FACTORS-----------------------
; 5. INSTITUTION TRENDS-----------------
| 6. PRIVATE VERSUS PUBLIC..............
I 7. VISIONQUEST------------------------
; 8. PERSONAL HISTORY-------------------
; 9. CONCLUSION-------------------------
! 10. REFRENCES.........................

The age-old question in Social Sciences is does nature or nurture
determines a personality. Since there is no way ethically to conclude which
one is the most determinant, we must rely on the available research. My
personal opinion is that nature plays a part but ultimately nurture determines
how we behave. I have concluded this opinion based upon my experience
working with youth. Most of the youth I have worked with come from
communities that have a disadvantage in resources available to them. Most
come from single parent homes where there is little to no consistent
supervision. It is in these neighborhoods that these youth are nurtured. Most of
youths delinquent and at risk behavior can be attributed to lack of supervision
and associations that youth have not in their biological make up. There is
research available that does look at how the biological makeup may determine
criminal behavior however, that is beyond the scope of this paper.
This paper details my experience working in a private profit placement
for the at risk population. Over the past ten years while working, I noticed
many similarities and differences in the youth placed in my placement versus
detention centers and those not placed anywhere. The main difference I
noticed was that youth in the detention centers felt the need to behave or act
tougher for self-preservation purposes. Those not placed usually had more

opportunities and support to behave age appropriate. Those placed in
placement such as VisionQuest often initially acted as if they were in
detention centers but once they felt safe and knew they would be protected
from predators would act more age appropriate. Placement at times gives
youth a safe place to find their true selves. I worked with both genders and the
primary age group of 12 to 18 years old. I always wanted to work with this
population, which I believed was not always afforded the same opportunities
as youth not labeled as at-risk1.
In talking to these youth and in dealing with them on a daily basis
within my career at VisionQuest, I came to notice they had the same hopes
and dreams typical for adolescents. I felt that the program, VisionQuest had
efficacy in dealing with this population. I wanted to compare VisionQuest to
the research of what makes a program the most beneficial in reducing
recidivism and aiding youth identified as at-risk.
VisionQuest has several types of programs and I chose to focus on one
community-based program located in Denver where I worked. I wanted to see
whether it met requirements set out in the research as an effective program.
1 For the purpose of this paper, at-risk youth are defined as youth between the ages of 12-18
years of age and are involved on some level with the court system or services provided by the
community in order to help reduce further court involvement.

Due to the program being closed, because of its lack of use by
placement agencies, a formal program evaluation was unable to be done. In
this paper, I look at what are the characteristics of youth served by the
juvenile justice system. What options are available to the juvenile justice
system to deal with these youth? What programs are the most successful in
dealing with this population and reducing recidivism? Is there a difference
between private and state run facilities? Does VisionQuest have a well-
developed program in order to reduce recidivism? Are detention centers the
answer? To answer these questions, I looked at my own personal involvement
and observations working with the at risk juvenile population within one
particular placement. i

The way juveniles in America have been viewed and treated in regards
to who is responsible for their development and behavior has changed
throughout history from the colonial period that children were commodities to
the progressive era where children need to be protected from vices of the
cities (Bearrows, etal.28). It is out of the progressive era and the late 1800s
that the Juvenile Justice system was developed. The progressive era resulted
in many reform movements in the area of juvenile justice (Gerstanfeld, etal.
The juvenile justice system has undergone several changes since its
inception in the late 1800s. Prior to the juvenile justice system, young
offenders were treated similar to adult offenders not only in trials and
sentencing but how they were placed and punished within the same facilities
as well (Watkins, etal. 4). There were no legal guidelines on how to deal with
someone of preteen to teen years that constantly had run-ins with the law
therefore they were dealt with under the laws of adults (Watkins, etal. 4). In
1819. it was brought to societys attention that children and adults were
housed together in prison (Watkins, etal. 4).

Most of those children confined were mainly paupers (Watkins, etal.
4). The impact of this finding resulted in New York founding the House of
Refuge to care for those that were seen as not taken care for by their families,
employed, or in school (Watkins, etal. 4). Other states soon followed
(Watkins, etal. 4). Terms such as parens patriae, which means the state
assumes the role of the parent, came into existence (Gerstanfeld, etal. 598).
Parens patriae was taken from British common law
( The government now assumed a responsibility
to not only the delinquent youth but also those children not properly
supervised. It became important for the government to protect children and to
try to rehabilitate them in different ways than adults. The Houses of Refuge
was an attempt at meeting parens patriae.
The House of Refuge soon began to take those children that committed
offenses and were subsequently sent to the criminal courts where they were
treated, housed, and sentenced as adults (Watkins, etal. 7). Reformatory
schools were developed in order to address the problem of adults being able to
influence the children incarcerated along with them. In addition, Reformatory
schools addressed how to protect children from being victimized by adult
criminals. The first of these was established in Massachusetts (Watkins, etal.
8). With the formation of separate facilities came the natural progression of

separate courts. The first juvenile court was formed in Illinois in 1899
(Gerstanfeld, etal. 597).
The juvenile courts took the opportunity to try to reform youth. They
did this by considering other information, such as cognitive, social, emotional,
and family support in order to make the best decision for the youth
(Gerstanfeld, etal. 598). This meant that youth were not seen as adults nor
were the courts run the same. This also allowed more leeway into how a
juvenile was treated. Although the formation of juvenile courts was a major
accomplishment, juveniles now in a separate court system, were not afforded
the same rights as adults either.
Due process guaranteed by the constitution did not extend to the
juveniles. It was not until the rights of due process were questioned and taken
to the Supreme Court in 1967 that they were extended to the juvenile courts
(Clement, etal. 36). The Gault decision, as it is called, became a major reform
in the juvenile justice system the decision now allowed due process rights be
given to juveniles. Due process allows juveniles to have an attorney, the right
to appeal, and protection against self-incrimination (Gerstanfeld, etal. 598).
Allowing due process, along with the other changes of separate courts and
separate facilities, further protected children.
Other major changes came in effect as a result of the Supreme
Courts decision to allow due process. The next major policy reform

movement that occurred was the Juvenile Delinquency and Control Act
(Gerstanfeld, etal. 598). The Juvenile Delinquency and Control Act of 1968
was formed to encourage community involvement in discouraging juvenile
crime ( This was most likely the beginning of
such programs as community centers and recreational after school programs.
Upon reports of inhumane conditions in state run training schools,
another act was created to address this issue (Greenwood, 1996). In 1974, the
Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act was formed (Gerstanfeld,
etal. 598). The formation of the 1974 act sought to regulate where and how
states detained juveniles (Gerstanfeld, etal. 598). Although several states had
reform schools, several children were still housed in the same facilities as
adults (Greenwood, 1996). This act was the result of the reaction to the safety
concerns. It also addressed the need to separate those that committed status
offenses from those that were more delinquent .
There was no uniform method as to how states detained children.
Some were detained in the same facilities and treated similar regardless of
delinquent or status offense. This increased safety concerns for children
placed with older or predatory youth as well as brought concern that children
would learn and improve on their delinquent skills. Children in facilities
talk about their exploits and in many cases glorify the very behavior that got 2
2 A status offense is defined as those offenses that are criminal if committed by a juvenile
such as runaways or truancy.

them placed in the court system. In talking to delinquent youth they seem to
give me the impression that the thrill outweighs the consequences. In
response to these concerns, the federal government mandated that any state
that receives federal funds must comply with the Juvenile Justice and
Delinquency Prevention act of 1974 ('). The
Juvenile Justice Delinquency Acts main purpose was established to protect
children and helped establish separate facilities for the placement of children.
The act resulted in an increase of separate facilities developed for the
youth. A result of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Act is a trend of the
type of facilities that exist and who runs them.

In the last twenty years, juvenile crime has gotten more media
attention. In the 80s due to public demand and the feeling that juveniles were
getting away with crime it became mandatory that certain offenses be bumped
up to the adult court system (Gerstanfeld, etal. 599). This continued
throughout the 90s were the juvenile court system became more punitive in
nature and it was more likely for juveniles to be dealt with in the adult system
(Gerstanfeld, etal. 599).
The decision to charge juveniles as adults came from the belief that
repeat and violent offenders were not being dealt with harsh enough. In order
to deal with this the Violent and Repeat Offender Accountability and
Rehabilitation Act was developed (Internet site). The Act allowed youth to be
charged as adults when they have committed a violent crime or they are a
repeat offender. This also has implications as to how many services the court
will pay for before making the sentence long-term commitment in a state run
facility until they reach maturity.
To see if juvenile crime has gone up or become more violent we can
look at census data. In looking at the census conducted by the Office of
Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention some light can be shed on the

trends of both the youth serv ed and the type of institutions. The trends show
that between the years 1975 and 1995 that the amount of juveniles in custody
increased (Smith, 1998). The increase is both male and females juveniles,
however the largest percent of the increase is attributed to males, while
females remained relatively constant (Smith, 1998).
In regards to ethnic makeup of the juveniles, it is made up largely of
minorities (Smith, 1998). African Americans and Hispanics had the largest
increase since 1975 with Hispanics increasing at a faster rate than African
Americans (Smith, 1998). The typical youth incarcerated was more likely to
be Hispanic or African American (Smith, 1998). Males were more likely to
be detained on a violent crime while female offenders were more likely to be
held on status offenses (Smith, 1998). Therefore, the increase in violent
offense can be attributed largely to males (Smith, 1998).

Trends in the Juvenile Justice System can account for the type of youth
served but there are several risk factors that identify and label a youth as at
risk. According to an article by Jeffrey Jenson and Matthew Howard social
skills deficits can increase the likelihood of drug use and antisocial behavior
(Jenson, Howard, 1990). The teaching of youth social skills such as how to
prevent substance abuse, problem solving, impulse and anger management,
and assertiveness will improve pro social behavior (Jenson, Howard, 1990).
Further research by Joshua Meisel suggests the importance of
relationships in promoting pro-social behavior. Meisel conducted research on
intensive aftercare supervision. His research suggests that improved
relationships with the adults in charge of the youths case resulted in improved
communication. Relationships can prove to be essential to the development of
youth. The program focused on in this article strives to achieve well
established relationships for the youth and is a cornerstone of its programming
for success. It is often the correlation of relationships youth have with their
peer group and with their family that can help determine the likelihood of
delinquent behavior. Poor familial relationships are another risk factor for

youth's anti- social behavior. Maltreatment also contributes to delinquent
behavior (Heck, Walsh, 2000).
Research that has been conducted on risk factors has largely been in
the form of recidivism. A study conducted by Julye Myner, Jennifer Santman,
Gordon Cappelletty, and Barry Perlmutter tried to account for most risk
factors from demographics, behavioral, school related, crime related, and
familial (Myner, et al. 1998). Her study showed that age at first conviction
largely predicted recidivism (Myner, et al. 1998).
Several research available states that there are several factors that can
be attributed to delinquency and anti-social behavioral from familial, peer
associations, substance abuse, school functioning, physical and emotional
abuse, social skills, type and occurrence of criminal behavior. This area
continues to need to be researched in order to find placements that are more
appropriate and possibly more specific to the risk factors.

An additional aspect of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Act
stated that the states must make some effort to address the issue that minority
youth are disproportionately represented in detention centers
( Before the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency
Act, several states did have separate facilities for juveniles, mainly in the form
of training schools ( These schools were run by
the state and were large locked facilities. These facilities served as little more
than a holding place for juveniles and with little difference in their treatment
regardless of whether they were there for status or delinquent charges.
(Greenwood, 1996). For this reason state run, facilities came under an
enormous amount of public scrutiny. The conditions of these state run
facilities, and the amount of victimization that occurred in them, was one
reason that helped pass the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act.
A secondary result was the beginning of privatization of the juvenile system
and a push for more alternatives and innovations in dealing with youth.
Private facilities include everything from group homes to ranches. The
amount of facilities today compared to 1975 is greater although they are

decreasing numbers of facilities (Smith, 1998). The largest percentage of all
the facilities is private (Smith, 1998).
In regards to the overall cost of detaining, a youth there has been an
increase. This is in correlation to the overall increase in private facilities,
increasing at a larger percentage than public institutions (Smith, 1998). Private
facilities have the option of charging rates commiserate with the services and
operational costs. The privatization of the juvenile justice system has steadily
increased (Smith, 1998).

There continues to be a large debate about whether state run or private
companies are more equipped to deal with youth. Several states do appear to
be more in favor of private run facilities for several reasons. There is an
increasing trend towards utilizing private facilities versus public (Hagen, et al.
1997). One of the reasons could be the number of private facilities that exist
or the belief that they are more efficient due to the innovative services
provided. More research would need to be done in this area. Private
companies, regardless of whether they are profit or non-profit, do have
advantages over state run facilities.
In comparisons of private and public institutions a few differences can
be noted first is that most private institutions that I know of have the options
to accept or reject a youth. This means that youth in private institutions tend to
be less aggressive (Smith, 1998). More aggressive youth and continual repeat
offenders and in some cases hard to place youth because of charges are placed
in public institutions such as detention centers (Smith, 1998). Private
institutions consisted of smaller facilities that are more diverse (Smith, 1998).
Such diversity includes anything from parental run group homes to large
experiential educational wilderness programs. The public institutions mainly

consisted of large facilities and mainly detention centers fall in this category
(Smith, 1998). Perhaps one of the most dramatic instances of a state making a
major reform in juvenile justice occurred in the 1960s in Massachusetts. The
commissioner for the state youth corrections was disappointed with the
current standards of the large state run facilities, took a majority of the youth
out of these facilities overnight, and housed them in dormitories until housing
that was more suitable could be found (Feeley, 2002). This led to the
movement of innovation to deal with youth outside state run schools.
The most successful innovators tend to be those in the private sector
where ideas can flow freely. This is not to say that other state run facilities
does not have some innovative ideas but most wilderness and foster homes are
run privately. As stated previously, private institutions have dealt with youth
for a long time. These mainly consisted of foster or group homes. As
innovators moved more into the juvenile justice system other programs began
to be developed, such as ranches, boot camps, wilderness programs that
involve outdoor risk activities (Smith, 1998).
More recently, there has been a push for more community-based
programs to work with the youths community (Smith, 1998). This is in large
part due to the Juvenile Delinquency Prevention and Control Act. The
diversity that is now present today presents new challenges. The most obvious

is which program type is best suited for the youth and second whos program
is run the most effective of the type chosen. There is research available that
have attempted to address whether or not private institutions are more superior
to public or state run facilities. The research does not distinguish between
profit versus non-profit organizations therefore, I also will not differentiate.
One thing that all the research agrees on is that private institutions make up an
increasing amount of institutions that deal with youth (Smith, 1998).
A comparative study conducted in California by David Shichor and
Clemens Bartollas, looked to see what the differences were in private and
public run institutions (Shichor, Bartollas, 1990). The prevailing difference
was that majorities of state run facilities are locked and have a higher level of
security than private ones (Shichor, Bartollas, 1990). The increased security
presents two more differences between the facilities that I find. The first is
that the amount of money it takes to run a high-level security system I have
been involved in estimates to install and maintain a minimal security system
and it is expensive. Any secured system is more expensive than none at all
which is how most foster homes and wilderness programs run with no
technological security system. Second is the overall aesthetics between the
facilities a gate or bars is not as pleasant to look at as the outdoors not

Less expensive equipment is one way that private placements cut cost
expenses. Instead of the cameras and the controlled doors, private facilities
have become more resourceful with their security measures. Private facilities
also target a less restrictive client (Smith, 1998).
Probably the most inventive example of high security without the
equipment is wilderness programs. These programs are placed in remote areas
where the environment and location itself is enough security. Should a youth
escape from such a facility they have Mother Nature to deal with such as the
terrain, bodies of water, the distance from transportation, and animals this is
particularly true in my experience. It is more advantageous for the staff that
often can search for the youth and bring them back to the facility prior to them
entering any civilization. For some youth being out of their element is enough
of a deterrent from running away.
The second main difference is the overall aesthetics of private
facilities. They are normally purposely designed to not have a detention
atmosphere. Most state run facilities spend very little of their budget in
making the environment pleasing to the eye. The main focus of state run
facilities is security while private placements purposely try to differentiate
themselves by offering alternatives (Shichor, Bartollas, 1990). The appearance
of the facility is as much of a selling point as the programs offered. For some
facilities, the location itself makes it pristine and little else needs to occur. The

look and feel of the program is important in the juvenile justice system
particularly since the focus of juvenile justice is treatment more than punitive
The idea that placements have a screening process can be somewhat
appealing to those paying for the service. The look of an uninviting or locked
facility is less likely to sell the idea of treatment but seems more punitive.
Due to the lessened security, treatment modality of private placements, and
the advantage of accepting or not accepting their wards appears to allow for
more of a treatment focus (Shichor, Bartollas, 1990). A state run facility has
no such luxury and must accept those that are not accepted by private
placements thereby may be less likely to focus on treatment as such as was
intended (Shichor, Bartollas, 1990). This idea of a screening process is an
additional aspect to compare between state and private facilities to see if one
gets a particular profile more than the other does. Some proponents state that
is why private placements are thought to be more successful; they are more
selective in nature (Shichor, Bartollas, 1990).
In comparing, the general characteristics of the youth sent to public
and private facilities there were little differences. Increasingly private
placements are receiving growing numbers of youth Smith, 1998). Part of this
may be due to the expanding nature of privatization and the increase in
facilities available (Smith, 1998). This also may be attributed to the fact that

several private placements are targeted at a particular profile and there is a
placement for every type of profile that exists. VisionQuest in particular has a
wide range of youth they accept as well as a profile that they will not accept.
There are however some differences that are notable between the types
of youth in each type of facility. Public facilities are more likely to get repeat
offenders, those that may have already been in private facilities but continue
to recidivate (Shichor, Bartollas, 1990). This would include those youth that
have their probation revoked. Where as private placements focus more on
treatment they are more likely to get youth with problems that are more
psychological (Shichor, Bartollas, 1990). In some cases, the social or
psychological factors are the criteria needed for the youth to be accepted to
the programs.
Some concerns presented by those that are in the field are that because
programs are run by private organizations the qualifications of staff are not set
to the same standards as those in public run facilities (Shichor, Bartollas,
1990). I tend to disagree with this because all programs are licensed by the
state in order to practice business have to meet the minimal standards set forth
by the state. Another concern is that some private institutions may not protect
childrens rights as much as those run by the state (Shichor, Bartollas, 1990)..
It is believed that private facilities try to get by minimal requirements
mandated by the state and are not held to the same scrutiny or governed by the

same standard as public facilities (Shichor, Bartollas, 1990). In my
experience, I can only speak for VisionQuest and there best practices are those
that are higher than the state mandates. It would be beneficial for more
programs to be evaluated according to the requirements held by the state to
see how close they meet those standards.
Finally, the last criticism or concern that private organizations present
is how do we know if they are run better or are more successful at reducing
recidivism than state run facilities? Throughout the literature, this problem is
prevalent. There are discussions on the type of programs that exist and the
difficulties in comparing them.
Further complicating this problem is there is no standard form to
evaluate these programs (Giacobbe, Schneider, 1986). Some have attempted
to use statistical models while others are qualitative in nature. The variables
that are measured also are inconsistent.
Lastly, there is the issue of data collection based on the wide range of
what is success. In a human services field such as juvenile justice the measure
of success is not as concrete (Giacobbe, Schneider, 1986). Despite this, there
is research that suggests that the most successful programs are those that are
run privately, kept small, are community based, and address several key social
factors (Antonowitcz, Ross, 1994).

According to research completed by Daniel Antonowitcz and Robert
Ross they found six characteristics that determine program efficacy: A sound
Conceptual Model, Multifaceted Programming, Targeting criminogenic
needs Responsivity Principle, Role Playing/ Modeling, Social Cognitive
Skills Training(Antonowitcz, Ross, 1994). With these six principles, I
evaluated one of the programs run by VisionQuest to see how these principles,
if at all, were used in order to determine its possibility for success to deter
recidivism (Antonowitcz, 1994).

Chapter 7
VisionQuest has been in existence for over thirty years and its
longevity says something about its success in dealing with the juveniles.
VisionQuest was founded by two men who had seen how youth were dealt
with in the detention centers and felt that there was a better way to deal with
them outside of locked cells. This was at the beginning of privatization of
juvenile justice and at a time when many reform schools were being criticized
for their conditions. VisionQuest was arguably one of the first programs to
take delinquent youth out of detention centers and take them into the
wilderness. While in the wilderness, the youth would learn about themselves
as they were challenged both physically and mentally.
Since its inception, VisionQuest has grown to work in seven different
states and a wide variety of program types that deal with youth at various
levels within the juvenile justice system. VisionQuest offers a continuum of
services of varying degrees of restriction. There is community based with
youth living in their home. Those that need to be removed from the home,
residential programs that is located in the community to wilderness programs
far removed from the communities.

The philosophy of VisionQuest in dealing with youth is to provide
appropriate role models and parenting to help direct them into appropriate
roles within society and best described by their Mission Statement.
VisionQuest is an employee-owned national youth services organization that
adheres to the highest professional standards in providing innovation
intervention services to at risk youth and their families. We provide
extraordinary experiences and relationships that allow youth, families, and
staff to redefine and reach their highest potential. Kids are safe, valued, and
honored. Families are respected and supported. Staff are trained, supported,
and appreciated. Communities are protected impacted and involved
( It is by this mission statement that VisionQuest operates when
dealing with youth and families.
The name VisionQuest derives from the Plains Indians. The term
vision quest was the rite of passage into adulthood. The conditions of a vision
quest differed among tribes but the commonalities usually consisted of the
youth taking a journey alone and required deprivation, meditation, and at
times a specific task to complete. The length of time lasted until the youth
completed the task and had a vision one that would direct their life. The youth
returned to the elders and told them of the journey and vision. Upon
completing the quest, the youth was seen as an adult.

Using this same concept Bob Burton founded his company,
VisionQuest, in order to help adolescents deal with the trial of growing into
adulthood. It is common knowledge throughout the academic world that the
period of adolescence is one filled with turmoil and has become a longer
period lasting almost into the early twenties. VisionQuest was founded in
1973 as an alternative to locking up troubled youth. Bob Burton along with
Steve Rodgers, co-founder of VisionQuest, sought a solution to locking youth
up in detention centers.
The concept was that if youth were taken out of detention and taught
to deal with some of their feelings that they would make different choices. It
was believed by the founders of VisionQuest that detention centers failed to
teach youth anything and in some cases made them angrier and gave no
coping skills. Through time, the stage of adolescence has increased and the
transition to adulthood has become more blurred. Particularly of concern were
those children that seemed to be struggling with making the transition from
childhood into adulthood. Several of these children struggle due to lack of role
models and poor decision making.
VisionQuest attempts to show these children new ways to deal with
the struggles of growing up by dealing with their issues rather than hide from
them through their negative behavior or substance use. VisionQuest attempts
to deal with and treat children as children in a supportive environment. That is

not typical of institutions that they may already be familiar. VisionQuest has
established several different programs to meet a variety of youth and their
A typical youth, or at least the idea, would be that a youth start out at a
base camp. The first base camp was located in Elfrida, Arizona. While at the
base camp youth were taught the basics of the program and the expectations.
In addition, youth were trained in a variety of activities to build trust and team
building in order to prepare them to complete a quest. A quest was intended to
challenge youth physically and emotionally. They included such things as
hiking, biking, mountain repelling. Quests became one of the cornerstones of
the VisionQuest program and initially how the program started. A typical
placement resulted in the youth remaining at the base camp from three to six
A youth may then chose to complete a three-month quest that was a
military style modeled after the historical segregated army companies the
Buffalo Soldiers.3 As stated earlier the largest population of youth in
placement are African American. Therefore, the idea that African American
youth needed historical role models and the Buffalo Soldiers were little
recognized in both the history books and at the time of their service. It was a
3 The Buffalo Soldiers were African American military regiment. It consisted of the 24th and
25th infantry and the 9th and 10th Cavalry. The Native Americans gave the term Buffalo
Soldiers to the African American troops. They thought that the hair of the soldiers and
bravery reminded them of the buffalo.-'

way to teach the lesson of perseverance and overcoming obstacles. The youth
also performed military drills both precision and fancy step routines. These
routines were taken into community schools to pass on positive messages such
as saying no to drugs. The youth enjoyed these performances and it was also a
way to give back to the community.
Another extraordinary quest offered to the youth was the camel corps
located in Texas and currently located in Arizona. On that quest, youth
learned about camels how to handle them and ride them. Once youth had
completed at least one quest and in some cases, several quests they transferred
to the wagon train.
The wagon train is a moving community consisting of approximately
sixty youth, forty animals, thirty staff, nine wagons, seven trailers, and four
tepees. The wagon train was totally self sufficient with an accredited school,
functioning kitchen, and a trailer with portable bathrooms. The camp moved
anywhere from ten to twenty miles a day at four miles per hour it took most of
the afternoon to move camps. Upon completion of the wagon train youth
returned back to the base camp for re-integration, back into the community.
While at base camp, youth had visits and home passes. The idea was to
ensure that services were in place for the youth upon his/her return. The most
important service was the educational/ vocational component. In addition,
youth that were on probation were given the terms and conditions to follow

upon their return to the community. VisionQuest also believed in supporting
youth upon their return after all several youth were gone from the community
for a year.
In order to deal with this VisionQuest had a program called
HomeQuest. HomeQuest deals with youth within the community and their
family. VisionQuest started their home based programs as one of their earliest
alternatives to juvenile placement. It was an approach of assisting families in
keeping track of their youth. The program originally was called the street
program because the staff would deal with the youth on the street in the
communities, which youth resided. It required the staff to diversify their
interactions in dealing with youth since it was where the youth was most
comfortable and more aware in their home environment and community. It
also required the staff to establish rapport with the family and community in
order to assist the youth. To this day, the street program now called
HomeQuest continues with this approach.
HomeQuest at the time of this article is being run in three states in six
major cities throughout the three states. The impact on the total number of
communities is difficult to ascertain due to the overlap of communities within
and near the cities that are being served. To say that each program influences
over 10 smaller communities within its geographical area is a small estimate.

Each program is run independent of the other programs and therefore can be
molded to suit the individual communities the programs serve.
Although each program may have different requirements for the
participants, all of VisionQuest programs share some common goals. These
goals are in common with the research that is available on effective programs
suggested by Antonowicz and Ross. To demonstrate these concepts I have
outlined the HomeQuest program.
The first goal is that all youths educational/ vocational needs are
addressed. While in the program all youth attend the accredited school located
within the facility. In the HomeQuest program this is often reached by
supporting the school system and checking with both the youth and the school
to ensure compliance and attendance in a school program. Sanctions are
imposed upon youth for failure to meet their educational goal set. Those in the
residential program may stay longer. In the HomeQuest program they may be
respite to the base camps to encourage compliance. Respites also serve as a
reminder on where the youth could be. Either those youth that are not
involved in an educational program are enrolled in one or a vocational goal is
The second goal is to address the time after school. Research strongly
suggests that most delinquent behavior occurs after school in the late
afternoon and early evening (McDowall, et al. 2000). This is most likely the

time when kids are least likely to be supervised. Most HomeQuest programs
either have an after school portion of the program that must be adhere to or
this is when contact in the community is made by the staff. In addition a
curfew is imposed on all youth to ensure that they are not out in the late hours.
The third area that is addressed is that of substance abuse. Many of the
programs have a component that requires the youth to be tested for illegal
substances. In addition there are groups that the youth are required to attend
that address substance abuse. In fact during the initial interview with the youth
it is explained to them that the culture of the program is substance and tobacco
free. Youth are requested to make a commitment to avoid both substances and
tobacco youth. Once again failure to do so results in a sanction.
The fourth area is that of family support. Within the HomeQuest
program the makeup of the family is diverse as well as the parental skills of
the families. The families may be two parent households or one where an
extended family member is taking care of the youth. The families represented
are from all social and economical classes. In regards to parental skills some
families have been neglectful or abusive while others are distant and impose
no authority over the youth and still others are at a high level of parental skills
but still have difficulty with their children. The HomeQuest program offers
twenty-four hour support and crisis intervention. In addition they are there to

support the parental figure whether imposing a sanction, giving guidance, or
aiding in obtaining outside resources for support.
The fifth area is one of social and cognitive functioning. The
HomeQuest program offers a safe manner in which youth can express
themselves yet within guidelines imposed to help communicate with adults
and their peer group. The program allows youth to communicate in an
appropriate manner with their peer group where they can express their ideas in
a safe environment on a variety of topics offers groups. The HomeQuest
program also requires the youth to communicate with adults through the
support of the staff in order to learn effective communication skills. Due to the
parental philosophy of the VisionQuest program youth are both supported and
guided to give respect to program staff adults and their families.
The sixth area, and what VisionQuest would consider the most
important is the establishment of relationships. VisionQuest firmly believes
and research supports that relationships with positive role models is an
effective medium for change. VisionQuest encourages its program staff to
develop healthy appropriate relationships with the youth. Relationships has
been a strength of the program. Through a relationship that is non judgmental
and supportive the staff are able to help guide and discipline the youth. The
youth in return is more likely to hear the advice from a trusted adult. In
addition, youth during their adolescent years are more likely to rebel against

their own parental figures and at times, an outsider can offer the same advice
or act as a mediator to get the youth to comply.
The HomeQuest program therefore helps and aids youth make the rite
of passage of adolescence. Through its programming, it addresses what
research has seen as the main areas for recidivism and successful programs
that help decrease recidivism. Therefore, it should be concluded that the
HomeQuest run efficiently has a sound basis for being a successful alternative
to higher cost incarceration as well as a reduction in recidivism rates.

Chapter 8
Personal History
I knew I wanted to work with the at risk population but did not want to
be tied down to an office. In the Pennsylvania Juvenile court, system I heard
about a company that works with at risk youth called VisionQuest. The thing
that was appealing to me about VisionQuest was that it was a wilderness
program rather than a locked facility. I was twenty-two years old and fresh out
of college with my degree in Sociology, in less than a month I took a position
with VisionQuest.
I started with VisionQuest in 1996 out of Western Pennsylvania.
Initially, I was to start out working with youth on the schooners that were
based on the Atlantic Ocean. The program consisted of staff and youth
working on the tall ships traveling from Nova Scotia to Florida. VisionQuest
had made the decision while I was in orientation to close the schooner
program due to the expense of maintaining the ships. I was offered an
opportunity to stay at the base camp or go to the wagon train. I chose to go to
the wagon train. My job title was a tipi parent. My responsibility was to
ensure that the youth in my tipi followed the daily schedule. That included
making sure immediate needs were met and program expectations were
followed. It also required some counseling with the youth.

I arrived on the wagon train that at the time was located in South
Carolina in the middle of the night. My first thought was what had I got
myself into. It was hard to take everything in the middle of the night. There
were pairs of eyes looking from under the fifteen-foot tepees. There were four
teepees and each one held about fifteen boys. They were not asleep and they
knew fresh staff were coming in to work. These youth were by far more
educated about the wagon train then I was. At the time, it was quite
intimidating add the fact that I was sleeping in a revamped semi truck trailer
that happened to face the horses and mules.
My day consisted of waking up the youth and assisting them pack their
duffels and taking down the tipi. Youth were served breakfast and then would
go to their wagons to tend the animals and prepare to move to the next camp.
Once in the camp the youth took care of the animals and went to school. Upon
completion of school, therapeutic groups focusing on a variety of areas from
substance abuse to social and cognitive skills groups were held.
The therapeutic approach was the time, and distance youth were from
their families, and home environments, here youth could get their basic needs
met and without distraction from their home environment and could focus on
themselves. In addition to traditional techniques in working with the at risk
population I learned the fabric and culture of the company.

VisionQuest has an eclectic corporate culture. They use metaphors and
symbols in order to teach and relate to youth. These metaphors and symbols
are based on the Crow Nations philosophy and are used with under their
guidance and with permission. Some examples are the ceremonies used by the
Crow Nation such as the talking feather, circles, smudges, pipe ceremonies,
and sweat lodges. It is in learning to use the symbols that aids in assisting
youth and provides a certain kind of magic to connect with youth.
I continued to work on the wagon train for two years traveling through
over twelve states. By the time, I finished on the wagon train I had completed
several job functions from cooking to case management. Other changes
occurred while I was on the train such as revamping it to be a military style
run train. Other changes that had occurred was the introduction of girls onto
an all male wagon train. This was quite a transition period up to that point all
my experience was with boys. I came to find out that girls had a variety of
different issues and that they processed events altogether differently than
My success as well as my need for a change led to my transfer. I
transferred to become the assistant director for a base camp located in Florida.
Florida was an all girls' camp that focused on dealing specifically with young
girls' issues. My responsibility was developing daily programming and setting

staff schedules. I was the main person holding the youth accountable and at
times, this caused conflict between the youth and me.
It was in Florida that I had to learn to change my dealing with youth.
Girls required more attention and the amount of those abused was tenfold to
what I had seen working with the boys. Another difference was the
willingness that girls had to deal with their issues. Girls became more attached
to staff and build relationships. This included the amount of loyalty
demonstrated by the girls. They were by far more willing to discuss their past
once they had gained trust with a staff.
I stayed in Florida for almost two years when it came time to relocate
the program to Pennsylvania. By relocating the program, it allowed the girls to
be closer to their families so that home visits and more family interactions
could occur. I helped with the transition from a non-military style camp to one
that functioned similar to boot camps. I stayed and continued to help with the
relocation in Pennsylvania for three months before I was requested to transfer
to the Arizona base camp.
They required someone to oversee the case management department.
Initially this was not a transfer that I agreed with but after discussion with
people in the company I agreed that it would be growth for my career so I
went to Arizona. It was my role in Arizona to oversee the entire case
management for all the youth, which consisted of one hundred youth. I

ensured that court documents were completed and that appropriate
programming to meet the youths needs was occurring. This also allowed me
to focus more on building relationships with youth and deal with some of their
issues without the day to day running of a program interrupting me.
I noticed while working the operational side of the program I could get
bogged down with correcting immediate behavioral problems that interrupted
time to deal with youth. However, my new position allowed me to take youth
into an office and finish a conversation with them. I saw the value of both
sides of the two different positions and being in case management was a nice
changed from what I had been doing.
As the program went through staff changes it became clear that there
was not sufficient strength in supervising the girls program. Although girls
can be the best behaved, girls also get caught up in more conflict with each
other causing the program to suffer. The staff that was overseeing the girls
program moved into a different position. This created a vacancy and it was
requested that I supervise the camp. I eventually was placed as the supervisor
responsible for overseeing the entire girls program in Arizona.
I eventually requested a transfer in order to get out of the hot Arizona
sun and be located out of the remote wilderness programs. VisionQuest was
starting a program in Colorado and required someone with case management
ability and operational experience. This would again be a challenge for me

since the program that was to be offered was a community based program and
not a residential placement. Youth would be dealt with in their community it
would be a HomeQuest program. Denver HomeQuest was established in May
of 2000.
The role of the program was to provide support to families, youth, and
the local communities in dealing with at risk youth. In order to do this
HomeQuest provides a variety of services that including tracking youth, crisis
intervention, educational groups, mentoring, counseling, assistance in
establishing appropriate boundaries in the home and community. HomeQuest
works with and for families to try to help the youth to reestablish control in
themselves. HomeQuest goal for the community is to provide an alternative to
costly placement in long-term residential centers or detention facilities.
HomeQuest deals with both males and females from the ages of 10-18.
In order to be placed in HomeQuest youth must demonstrate a
willingness to remain in their community and family without creating a
danger to himself or herself, families, or the community. Youth are mainly are
referred to the HomeQuest program through the court system. Youth may be
referred for a variety of reasons such as criminal behavior, truancy, beyond
parental control, or issues of neglect where HomeQuest can act as a protection
for youth. The requirements for youth in the HomeQuest program and all
VisionQuest programs are that they make four basic commitments, 1. No

Drugs or alcohol, 2. Deal with their issues in the areas of self, abuse,
abandonment, and boundaries, 3. Not to runaway from home or their issue, 4.
No smoking. Additionally staff sees HomeQuest youth visually at least once
a day. The youth must call and check in and keep HomeQuest informed of
their whereabouts.
Youth are required to complete community service regardless if they
owe any to the courts, and attend weekly groups. Successful completion of the
program results in youth being able to demonstrate competence in following
household rules, substance free, attendance in an educational program, and
completion or continued progress in meeting any requirements from the
courts. As a youth transitions off the program they should need less
supervision and demonstrate better impulse control and cognitive thinking.
Four people that can handle up to twenty-five youth staffed Denver
HomeQuest. HomeQuest does not limit the amount of youth that it accepts
and as the program grows more staff can be added. The primary functions of
all the staff is to help keep the youth accountable to their family, the program,
and community. The rotation of the schedule is set up so that at least one
person a day works to visit the youth at their home seven days a week
including all holidays. The job positions in a small program are multi
functional to meet all the needs of the program.

My primary responsibility is to ensure that the youth is receiving all
appropriate services, any communication, and quality control within the
program including protecting youths rights. In order to do this I work with
agencies involved and the family to develop an individual treatment plan for
each youth. While the youth are in the program I communicate the youths
progress or lack of to those involved.
This includes ensuring that all documentation is accurate, any court
reports are complete, and attending any staffing or court dates with the youth.
The plan at any time may be adjusted to better meet the needs of the youth. In
other words if it has to do with the youth I am involved in the process
throughout the youths placement.
My other function is to ensure that the goals of the program are carried
out within the standards set by VisionQuest. There were originally three other
people to start the program. One served as the receptionist and office manager,
one provided the operational aspect of the program and served as the director,
the final person was local and was to provide VisionQuest with the
community resources and knowledge of the city of Denver. As the program
expanded and the desire to grow within Denver more people were added.
Childcare workers responsible to ensure youth were in compliance within the
community and the main tracker of their whereabouts, the final person was to

serve as a court liaison and develop the program he would now serve as the
program administrator.
The program continued to grow through 2000 and 2001. VisionQuest
continued to be used as a resource by Denver Department of Human Services
and there was interest in the surrounding communities. There was a need for
community-based programs with the ability to keep costs down and the ability
to assist youth without incarcerating them, which VisionQuest was meeting.
Towards the end of 2001 when the whole country was hit with an
economic decrease due to September 11, the result to all community-based
programs was negative, including the HomeQuest program. Many programs
lost their funding due to grants being cancelled. The use of HomeQuest
deteriorated as the funding for the Department of Human Services was cut.
The pressure was now for the department to focus on the emergencies and
most severe cases. Budget cuts meant the department had to streamline their
workforce as a result there were several lay offs and doubling of caseloads.
HomeQuest was now seen as a program that although met several
needs of the department were not being used due to the lack of funds and the
focus being on residential programs. This meant that for several youth that
would normally get services would not be able to due to not being as high a
need for services. As a result of the political and economic changes in 2002,
VisionQuest became interested in moving into a residential program and

communication was started with the Denver Human Services to determine
what the departments greatest need was in the residential aspect. HomeQuest
continued to run but the numbers were dwindling as the recession and budget
cuts continued.
By the beginning of 2003, HomeQuest was able to find a location for a
residential program. It was decided that a girls shelter was the greatest need
for Denver as well as surrounding communities. In May of 2003 VisionQuest
was ready to open up its shelter however the first placement was for a boy. It
was decided that due to the set up of the property that both boys and girls
could be housed separately. A few days later a girl was placed.
At this point, I began to further my career and became the program
director for the residential program. HomeQuest was still a viable option for
placement and it was felt that along with the shelter short term the same
provider could provide residential program that full wrap around services
without interrupting service or relationships. The program continued to grow
throughout 2003 and 2004. In 2004, VisionQuest shut down the HomeQuest
program due to its lack of use. In 2005 VisionQuest was never used to its full
potential by the surrounding communities as well as competing companies in
the area contributed to the lack of profitability.
VisionQuest is a for profit and employee owned company.
VisionQuest did a cost analysis of the program and due to the lack of being

able to make a sustaining profit it was decided that VisionQuest could supply
needed resources elsewhere and the program was shut down. One of those
resources was me and I again transferred this time back to Florida where a
large all girls program was located.
I continued in the operational side of the program. I stayed in Florida
from July 2005 to the end of October 2005.1 personally did not like the state
of Florida and requested a transfer. I was asked to go to the wagon train in
Arizona. Once I was in Arizona a new plan was developed for me as Arizona
wanted to start a girls program on the site and I was requested to stay at the
base camp rather than go to the wagon train. It is in Arizona that I will end my
career with VisionQuest. I decided to change careers for a break.
Working in the childcare field is both rewarding and exhausting.
Working within residential programs is more so due to the amount of time
spent with the youth, twenty-four hours a day seven days a week including
holidays. It is raising other peoples children. Those that work with delinquent
and at risk youth require a special person for not only are you raising and
teaching others children but also trying at times to undue years of bad habits
and in the worse cases abuse and neglect. It is an honorable career, at times
like other childcare professions under paid, and under appreciated. One of the
first areas hit by budget cuts and particularly in the case of at risk youth one of
the first to take criticism when it does not have a 100% compliance rate.

Overall VisionQuest offers both its employees and youth the
opportunity to grow. It provides a safe environment for change. It does not
restrict ideas and is willing to try almost anything to influence social change
within the poorest of communities while investing in the most important
commodity of our future that of children. It is a difficult and time-consuming
job working within VisionQuest where I will always admire those that chose
to stay with the company since its inception. VisionQuest staff work long
hours and many times give up many hours with their own families or separate
lives. I know personally that in ten years I have worked the enough hours for
twenty years. I also know that I am not the only one, which is why at times it
makes it easier to do.
VisionQuest is and always has been an eclectic program and its own
separate community. The norms and practices are hard to understand until you
live them and the company is one where people truly live. I know because in
the last ten years I have grown in more ways than I can count. I firmly believe
in another company it would not have been the same. VisionQuest has not
been one that functions on a corporate level even though it is a corporation. It
is one where decisions are often made on emotion and not business sense. It is
probably one of, if not the only company, where you could get into a yelling
argument with a co-worker or at times a supervisor and not be fired but
accepted, heard, and then move on without resentment. It at times makes it

difficult for those that are used to corporations have a difficult transition
unless they have a deep passion for what they are doing.
I can remember my first day where I felt that I would not last a year
and I lasted ten. A company that was hard to be accepted. Where bets on how
long you would last were made behind closed doors. It was where you had to
prove yourself not only to the youth but also to the staff. Once proven though
you were fully embraced as not an employee but a member of an extended
A company that had its own language, rituals, and norms that had to be
followed. Most likely, the only company where meetings are held in a circle
and a hug replaces a handshake. It was as if you were in a foreign country
trying to find your way around. I cannot mention enough the amount of
opportunity and growth that I received while at VisionQuest. I moved from
my awkward early adulthood fresh from college to my thirties well
established in my adulthood. I was granted protection from the outside world
to continue to grow. I missed the troubles that most twenty-two years olds
face with little to no money and trying to live on my own or still with my
parents. In a way, VisionQuest also groomed my early adulthood or late
adolescence. I did not live on my own until I was twenty-seven, five years
after I was employed with VisionQuest even though I had been out of my

parents house for all five of those years. One of my supervisors helped me
get my first telephone in my name hooked up.
In fact, my living history to get my first apartment was VisionQuest
since I always lived on property. I was several times adopted and looked after
by my co-workers or supervisors. I never wanted for advice on my career and
in many cases my own personal growth. VisionQuest staff was the first to
congratulate me or tell me to grow up and give me the hand up. There is no
way I can fully express my time with VisionQuest it was completely my ten-
year history part of my life.
My story is only one of many and each one special and different. In
my ten years, VisionQuest has been at one time or another in eight different
states, started over ten different programs, modified all of its programs to
better suit the counties needs, served over 40,000 youth, and hired over 8,000
staff. None of these numbers includes what was accomplished in the 22 years
before I started. To think that I was part of this is a phenomenal thought.

Chapter 9
In conclusion, the juvenile justice system does continue to try to
achieve its goals of rehabilitating youth. Among those that are in the juvenile
justice, system sees the pendulum swing between rehabilitative and punitive.
The early formation of the juvenile justice was for rehabilitative while the
eighties and nineties see the system move more like the adult system and be
punitive (Clement, 1997).
Society and communities also have a certain amount of responsibility
to aid at risk youth to improve there overall well being and improve the
community in which they reside. There is a need for community based
programs and as stated in this article the Denver HomeQuest did serve a void
in Denver and should have been used more. VisionQuest clearly had the 1974
Act guidelines in mind when creating its community-based programs.
According to the research, it is not whether an institution is private or
state run but how they meet the cognitive and social needs of the youth.
Although private institutions have more innovative techniques and programs
they have the option of what youth they chose to serve. It is clear that there is
still a need for both forms of institutions however; it would be beneficial to
identify which program the youth will be most successful. This article has
given the groundwork for future programs to develop successful programs. It

is clear that the more options and services given to the court system the better
chance of reducing recidivism. These programs include those run by
VisionQuest. VisionQuest did meet the criteria outlined in the research to help
reduce recidivism and provide a successful program.
The limitations of this study are that a complete evaluation was not
completed on the Denver HomeQuest program. In addition, I was involved
with the VisionQuest program for ten years; and have a fondness for the
program. I would not work for something I did not believe in.
Overall, I believe this article has significance in that it shows what a
successful program can be and the limitations that both private and public
institutions face. There clearly is a need for both the traditional and more
innovative programs in dealing with youth at risk.

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