Volume 73 Number 3
Federal Probation
New Directions in Juvenile Sex Offender Management: Designing a Collaborative Approach

Nancy G. Calley
University of Detroit Mercy

The Comprehensive Juvenile Sex Offender Management Initiative


JUVENILE SEX OFFENDING continues to be a serious problem, comprising 20.61 percent of sexual offense arrests and 16.7 percent of all arrests for forcible rape (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2002). Additionally, it is estimated that 30 to 50 percent of all child molestations are perpetrated by adolescent males (Sickmund, Snyder, & Poe-Yamagata, 1997). Despite an increasingly enhanced understanding of factors related to juvenile sex offending, this category of offenses continues to account for a significant portion of juvenile delinquency. In fact, over the past decade, while these percentages have remained largely consistent (Barbaree & Marshall, 2006), there has been considerable growth in the literature in specific aspects of juvenile sex offending, such as assessment (Calley, 2007; Grisso & Underwood, 2004; O’Reilly & Carr, 2006; Prentky, Harris, Frizzell, & Righthand, 2000; Worling & Curwen, 2001) and treatment (Prentky, Harris, Frizzell, & Righthand, 2000; Witt, Boslye, Hiscox, 2002;Worling & Curwen, 2001), and to a lesser degree, research has been dedicated to issues such as modus operandi (Bijleveld, Weerman, Looije, & Hendriks, 2007; Burton, 2003; Veneziano, Veneziano, & LeGrand, 2003), issues related to legislative changes (Petrosino & Petrosino, 1999; Vasquez, Maddan, & Walker, 2008), and specific legal challenges (Hiller, 1998; Trivits & Reppucci, 2002; Turoff, 2001). In addition, community organizations and juvenile justice systems have implemented various efforts to effectively manage sex offenders, often working independently and often not producing adequate results (CSOM, 2002; D’Amora & Burns-Smith, 1999; English, Pullen, & Jones, 1996).

Whereas traditionally much of the research has dealt with specific aspects of juvenile sex offending or the efforts of one independent organization (e.g., juvenile justice facility, community agency), few efforts have viewed juvenile sex offending comprehensively, as an issue with multiple interacting facets. Further, despite more recent calls for collaborative efforts in juvenile sex offender management as a means by which to achieve more efficient and effective systems of management (ATSA, 2001; Berlin, 2000; CSOM, 2002; D’Amora & Burns-Smith, 1999; English, Pullen, & Jones, 1996, 2003; McGrath, Cumming, & Burchard, 2003; NAPN, 1993), there continues to be a paucity of research addressing such efforts.

In order to move these objectives forward in practice, the Comprehensive Approaches to Sex Offender Management model was conceived by the Center for Sex Offender Management (CSOM). CSOM is a collaborative effort of the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, the National Institute of Corrections, the State Justice Institute, and the American Probation and Parole Association and is administered by the Center for Effective Policy. The model acknowledges the complex nature of sex offending and the subsequent necessity of key system components to address offender accountability, rehabilitation, and community safety throughout all phases of the criminal and juvenile justice system (CSOM, 2008). More specifically, the CSOM model adopts a comprehensive view of sexual offending and promotes collaborative efforts towards system improvement that address each of the major areas that together comprise significant components of the system of sex offender management. These areas include: Investigation, Prosecution, and Disposition, Assessment, Treatment, Reentry, Supervision, and Sex Offender Registration.

The model builds upon previous work in the sex offender management field over the past two decades (CSOM, 2008) and serves as a teaching guide to assist regions in their own unique system improvement efforts. As such, the model provides a framework for regions to use to identify and promote strategic and collaborative responses to improving their systems of juvenile sex offender management. More specifically, CSOM developed the Comprehensive Assessment Protocol (CAP, 2004) for regions to use to guide the initial data collection process that forms the initial step of the system improvement process. Briefly, the CAP is organized in accordance with the CSOM model, including each major category comprising the sex offender management system (e.g., assessment, supervision) and provides an extensive set of exploratory questions to guide the investigator in data collection and assessment activities.

Bringing together both concrete guidance and financial support, the Bureau of Justice Programs has provided funding to regions to support system-wide improvement efforts targeting sex offender management (both adult and juvenile populations). The CAP and other materials developed by CSOM were made available to recipients of this funding to guide system improvement efforts aimed at sex offender management.

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The Comprehensive Juvenile Sex Offender Management Initiative

Driven by the desire to identify and resolve primary system needs and improve the regional juvenile sex offender management system, a large, highly populated region in the Midwest received funding from the Bureau of Justice Programs to engage in a system improvement initiative. As a recipient of this funding, this author was able to use the CAP and other CSOM materials to guide the system improvement process.

Prior to receiving funding support, the author had received the commitment of multiple factions within the regional juvenile justice system to participate in the system improvement initiative. As a result, a team of stakeholders, including treatment providers, case management providers, regional juvenile justice system, the prosecutor’s office, jurists, and local and state law enforcement, was formed to serve as the project’s Collaborative Team, working directly with the project coordinator. The project consisted of three broad areas: 1) assessment of the existing juvenile sex offender management system, 2) analysis of the existing system with best practice literature, and 3) development and implementation of strategies to address identified gaps. This article will outline each of the three stages of the project that culminated in the development and implementation of a set of strategies designed to significantly improve the region’s juvenile sex offender management system.

Assessment of the Existing Juvenile Sex Offender Management System

As the initial step in the process, an extensive assessment of the existing regional system of juvenile sex offender management was warranted. The CAP was used to guide this process. In addition, several tools were developed by the author and members of the Collaborative Team (Team) to aid in data collection. These included: The Practice, Policy and Resource Inventory, the Juvenile Sex Offender Continuum of Care form, and Guiding Questions for Internal and External Data Collection forms.

To complete the data collection process, members of the Team formed sub-committees around each of the major assessment areas (e.g., Re-Entry). Each sub-committee was then charged with leading the data collection process for their respective area and completed this process through individual and/or group interviews with relevant stakeholders (e.g., law enforcement, victim advocacy organization), the development and use of surveys, analysis of statistical data, and review of exist-ing documentation (e.g., policy, law). Efforts were made to engage all relevant stakeholders throughout every aspect of the assessment process, and as a result, findings reflected multiple sources of input. The assessment process was conducted over a six-month period.

A preliminary step in the assessment process was a need to frame the problem of juvenile sex offending in the region to provide basic knowledge about the issue to the members of the Team. To accomplish this, several data sets were analyzed and reviewed by the Team. Some of these data sets included:

  • Number of the state’s juveniles charged with a sex crime during the previous 4 years;

  • Case outcomes of those juveniles charged with sex crimes during the period;

  • Number of the region’s juveniles arrested for a juvenile sex crime in the preceding year;

  • Number of the region’s juveniles found guilty of a juvenile sex crime during the previous 5 years;

  • Number of the region’s juveniles in residential placement as a result of a sex crime charge and;

  • The development of a profile (e.g., types of offenses, age, gender, race) of juvenile sex offenders in residential placement.

In addition to gathering these broad data sets, an in-depth analysis was conducted on all of the region’s cases involving juveniles arrested for sex offense charges during the previous year. The following aspects of these cases were analyzed: 1) demographic characteristics of victims and offenders, initial charge, 2) legal manner in which the case was resolved (e.g., dismissal, plea), 3) dispositional charge, and 4) case outcome (e.g., probation, residential treatment) (Calley, 2008). Whereas each of the data sets contributed to the development of an accurate illustration of the region’s issues related to juvenile sex offending, this last data analysis provided considerable information to the Team regarding the manner in which juvenile sex offense cases proceeded through the Court system, and produced several significant findings.

Some of the most striking findings had to do with the most common types of offenses committed by the region’s juveniles and the manner in which the Court dealt with these offenses. Broadly, the majority of the initial charges were comprised of the most serious sexual offenses with Criminal Sexual Conduct I (most serious of the sex offenses in the state typically involving force and penetration; felony charge requiring sex offender registration); Criminal Sexual Conduct II (second most serious sex offense in state) comprised the second most common initial charge among the population. Whereas this data reflected a region challenged with the most serious types of juvenile sexual offenses, the manner in which the court dealt with these cases may have unintentionally resulted in withholding treatment to the population, possibly motivated by attempts to avoid the sex offender registration law. Specifically, 79 percent of the cases initially charged with CSC I were pled down to Gross Indecency charges (misdemeanor not requiring sex offender registration) (Calley, 2008). As the youth progressed through the Court, only 30 percent of the cases initially charged with CSC I entered the region’s juvenile justice system and were thereby eligible for regionally-funded juvenile sex offender treatment (also noteworthy, only 36 percent of all youth charged with juvenile sex offenses were referred to the region’s juvenile justice system.) Whereas the issues leading to these Court-related outcomes may very well constitute unintended consequences related to sex offender legislation and its application to juvenile offenders, a significant portion of youth in need of treatment may not have been able to receive such treatment as a result of dispositional decision-making.

Another method of detailed analysis that was employed by the Team to increase understanding of the existing system was the development of a System Map. The System Map identified each of the steps in the process as a youth proceeded through the juvenile justice system as a result of a sex crime charge. The System Map provided a tremendous amount of detail and clarification as to the existing process that impacted juveniles within the system and throughout their interaction with the system. In conjunction with the various data analyses, the System Map provided a solid picture of the region’s existing system.

In addition to the various data already discussed, the assessment of each area of the system (e.g., Treatment, Supervision) included a thorough identification of both existing strengths and needs. However, for the sake of space considerations, a limited sample of the major needs is included here (see Table 1).

As evidenced by the findings, the assessment yielded a tremendous amount of information about the existing juvenile sex offender management system and as such, was a highly educational process for both Team members and participating stakeholders. Additionally, because assessment activities are typically dynamic and interactive in nature, the process provided numerous opportunities for learning, questioning, and reflecting about the various aspects of the system, at times resulting in immediate changes. Finally, and consistent with ethics related to assessment processes, the complete results of the assessment were made available to all participants and all of the region’s stakeholders to ensure that everyone would be able to benefit equally from the work.

Analysis of the Existing System with Best Practice Literature

Having completed an extensive assessment of the existing system of juvenile sex offender management and as such, having gained significant information related to the region's needs in this area, a comprehensive examination of the scholarly literature was warranted. Such a literature review was needed to identify and prioritize gaps between the region’s system and current research. To this end, a comprehensive literature review was conducted by the author.

A four-step approach was used to accomplish this that included: 1) an electronic search of major scholarship databases (e.g., EBSCO, LexusNexus) to identify all relevant journal articles, books, and other literature dealing with juvenile sex offending and related areas (e.g., juvenile justice, legislation) published during the past 25 years, 2) collection and review of all relevant scholarship, 3) review of all best practice literature from related professional associations, accrediting bodies, and other formalized workgroups and, 4) an analysis of the major findings in the literature with the existing system needs.

In order to organize the vast literature related to juvenile sex offending and to aid in determining specific additional areas of analysis, the author compiled a bibliography spanning the previous 25 years. In addition, a second bibliography of research conducted during the past ten years was also developed in order to provide a more focused view of the most current literature. This extensive review of the literature provided essential information to the Team, providing concrete knowledge on a variety of issues related to juvenile sex offending, and assisting in prioritizing the needs of the region based upon research. As such, the literature review and analysis provided the Team with evidence-based guidance for use in identifying the region’s most significant needs. Moreover, the review provided the Team with the foundation for developing strategies to address these needs. The collection of strategies that were then developed by the Team is referred to as the Implementation Plan.

Implementation Plan

Using the data gathered in the comprehensive assessment process and the analysis of existing practices in the region with current research, Team members continued to work in subcommittees to prioritize each of the needs in their related areas. The prioritized needs identified by each sub-committee were then shared with the full Team for final decision-making. This resulted in the identification and consolidation of the most significant needs of the region’s system of juvenile sex offender management. For each identified need, the best practice literature was again used to develop specific broad-based strategies to address such needs, resulting in the development of a comprehensive set of improvement strategies to be implemented within the region.

As evidenced in the findings of the assessment process, a major identified theme was the lack of comprehensive knowledge and understanding among stakeholders regarding juvenile sex offenders and the various issues related to the population. In addition, there was a lack of collective knowledge about the existing juvenile sex offender management system. To address this issue, a significant portion of the improvement strategies focused on increasing the region’s collective knowledge regarding juvenile sex offending and juvenile sex offender management through education, training, and the implementation of a variety of evidence-based protocols. In short, the set of improvement strategies emphasized three primary domains: the adoption of best practice standards, training, and education among key stakeholders. More specifically, the strategies were categorized into seven major activities: 1) the development of Exploratory Committees to continue to tackle specific issues requiring additional work, 2) resource development to support the work of various factions of professionals (e.g., police, prosecutor, treatment providers, 3) the implementation of formalized information-sharing forums, 4) the development of a comprehensive data collection plan and annual data review forums, 5) best-practice policy development across all necessary areas, 6) the development and delivery of a comprehensive training curriculum, and 7) the development and implementation of a comprehensive website.

Thirty-six specific action-oriented strategies were developed, each reflecting one of these major activities and together designed to improve the region’s system of juvenile sex offender management through the adoption of best practices, education, and training. To illustrate this, the strategies are categorized by the major areas examined in the initial assessment process to indicate the relationship between identified needs and the new strategy development (see Table 2).

As you can see, each of the strategies was designed to directly address the most significant needs of the region’s juvenile sex offender management system with a strong emphasis on increasing the collective knowledge of the region and providing essential tools and resources to promote evidence-based practices throughout the system. Moreover, because sustaining an initiative such as this typically presents the most pressing challenge to systems, strategies that were adopted were those that were thought to continuously improve the system rather than to produce temporary change.

For instance, the development and adoption of best practice policies ensured that all existing and new stakeholders received the same level of guidance in their work and quarterly juvenile sex offender treatment forums were intended to promote continuous dialogue and information-sharing among multiple factions working in the system. Likewise, regularly scheduled systematic review of data promoted an ongoing focus on various issues related to the system and immediacy in responding to system needs. The educational/training curriculum was designed to initially be provided face-to-face during a six-month period, and then be converted to online instruction with open access to all stakeholders; this promoted ongoing educational opportunities for existing professionals in the system and new professionals as they join the system. By making the training available to all existing and future stakeholders, the Team hoped to reduce the knowledge gaps between professionals in the region. Finally, the development of a comprehensive website was viewed as an essential sustainability tool; it was intended to serve as a repository for all best practice documents, guidance tools, and other resources, serve as a communication tool within the system, and provide the online educational curriculum. Regularly scheduled updates to the training curriculum and website were also established to ensure the ongoing relevance of the information made available through the site.

To ensure successful implementation of the comprehensive strategies, timeframes for completion were established and specific individuals were identified as responsible for carrying out the various strategies. Further, the Team planned that each of the strategies would be implemented immediately to further reinforce the effectiveness of the improvement process itself, particularly by efficiently demonstrating the purpose of assessment and providing feedback to all stakeholders. An open forum was held soon after the Implementation Plan was finalized to present the findings and to introduce the Plan to all stake-holders. This forum provided an opportunity for various members of the system to again come together in this shared work, while also promoting new momentum to move the Implementation Plan forward.

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The Comprehensive Juvenile Sex Offender Management Initiative (the formal title of the region’s system improvement project) was originally pursued because a team of professionals in the region were concerned about the existing status of the juvenile sex offender system. These concerns allowed for not only shared responsibility but more importantly, developing a shared vision and engaging in a highly collaborative effort. As a result of the collaborative work of multiple factions within the region’s juvenile justice system, a critical analysis of the existing system was completed, resulting in the development of a comprehensive improvement plan.

Although the intent of this article is to highlight the process that the region used to engage in broad-based improvement efforts, it will be important to report later on the outcomes of the implementation of the strategies. With the evaluation of the implementation plan currently underway, the results of the implementation should be available in the near future.

As the issue of sex offending continues to gain significance in the criminal justice system, it will be essential that systems have specific protocols and processes in place by which to address the complex needs of the population. Moreover, whereas sex offenders comprise just one subgroup of the criminal population, other offenders with specialized needs (e.g., co-occurring mental health disorders, developmentally disabled individuals, young adults/older teens) may benefit equally from such comprehensive and collaborative approaches to system improvement that are specifically designed to address their unique needs. It is likely in this manner that the benefits of an initiative such as this have greatest value: that is, the ability of such efforts to be used as a template for multiple types of system improvement.

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