How it works: Step-Up and Family Intervention & Restorative Services (FIRS) programs for youth arrested for family violence

Step-Up and Family Intervention and Restorative Services (FIRS) – youth violence interventions from King County Superior Court – are a great example of the Zero Youth Detention objectives in practice. These programs prevent youth from entering the legal system by providing services before a family has legal system involvement; divert youth who’ve been arrested for family violence from the formal legal process and secure detention; provide therapy to support youth and families to reduce recurrence of involvement in the legal system; and align the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office with social services to increase effectiveness.  

Watch the video to see inside the Step-Up Program and hear stories from staff, families, and youth involved, and read below to learn more.

The background

Historically, about a third of juvenile detention bookings involved youth committing violence against a family member. Rather than time in secure detention and a criminal record, these youth and their families need immediate safety, therapy and support to learn a respectful family model for addressing conflict.

How it works

When a youth is picked up by police for alleged violence against a family member, FIRS kicks-in. If family members are feeling unsafe, FIRS provides youth space at an overnight respite center instead of time in secure detention. FIRS social workers trained in family violence contact the harmed family member and ask if they and the youth involved are interested in receiving intervention services. If the family and youth choose intervention services, FIRS social workers develop a restorative agreement and safety plan with the family.

The voluntary agreement asks the youth to follow the safety plan and to participate in evidence-based counseling – often, the Step-Up Program. Step-Up provides families in crisis 21 sessions of intensive group therapy in place of juvenile detention and formal legal system involvement. Families don’t have to be referred by the Superior Court; many families choose to participate in Step-Up on their own, as an early intervention to prevent escalation or calls to police later on.

The result

Thanks to interventions like Step-Up and FIRS, in recent years, we’ve seen a significant reduction in juvenile family violence case filings.