Preventing youth from entering the juvenile legal system by focusing upstream

Logo for Road Map objective 2 - prevent

icon_preventAdolescence is a unique period of brain development. The brain systems that drive emotional responses and risk taking mature faster than the executive function systems that regulate them. Many of the behaviors typically associated with adolescence, such as risk taking and experimentation with drugs and alcohol, are due to this development. Simply, the normal process of adolescent brain development is to make risky choices for a period of time, then to grow out of it.

Research has identified a common set of protective factors that promote positive development for youth in the face of significant adversity – the development of resilience. When these positive influences are operating effectively, they “stack the scale” with positive weight and improve resilience. These factors include:

  • Supportive adult-youth relationships
  • A sense of self-efficacy and perceived control
  • Opportunities to strengthen adaptive skills and self-regulatory capacities
  • Sources of faith, hope, and cultural traditions


A dual strategy of risk reduction and promotion of protective factors through an intentional positive youth development approach holds the greatest promise as a public health strategy toward achieving Zero Youth Detention. Understanding adolescent brain development, protective factors, and the role of resilience is key to upstream prevention efforts for youth.

Stay tuned for the rest of the Diving into the Road Map blog series that will further explore the strategies and action items of this objective:

Objective 2: Prevent

Prevent youth from entering the juvenile legal system

This objective recognizes partnership between youth and families, schools and communities, and the County is needed to enhance positive youth development and help position the youth on a healthy life course.


  1. Support development of restorative policies and practices to keep youth engaged in school
  2. Provide access to high quality, community based services for communities, including youth, families, and victims
  3. Support community based response to youth and families in crisis so that legal system involvement is rare and the last resort

Example Action Items

  • Convene school partners to improve school discipline practices
  • Expand culturally responsive evidence based and/or promising behavioral health practices for youth outside of and prior to involvement with the juvenile legal system
  • Continue and grow sustained investments in robust community options to serve high needs youth and families

In the meantime, you can read more about this objective in the Road Map report.