Gary A. Bernfeld, Ph.D, C.Psych
Community Support Services
St. Lawrence Youth Association
Adjunct Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology
Queen's University
E - Mail - gary@bernfeld.ca


The youth justice system costs the Canadian taxpayer $510 million annually in Federal-Provincial cost-shared dollars alone -- and this excludes court, legal aid, treatment and pre-adjudicated detention costs.

In this era of shrinking resources, we must ensure that our crime control strategies are:

  • built on the knowledge of how youth crime develops
  • based on our knowledge of how to best treat and prevent youth crime
  • supportive of the family's responsibility to socialise and raise its children
  • implemented comprehensively across all services to families
  • delivered efficiently within the youth justice system
  • effective, and
  • cost conscious or demonstrate "value for money"

Overall, it is recommended that the Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs should ensure that the money intended for criminal justice services to youth and families should be spent as intended.

This brief will explore the above points, which emphasise the need for a young offender service system that is effective, cost-efficient and closely linked to the family unit.

The next section reviews the research on the central role of the family in the development and effective treatment of delinquency.

The Development and Treatment of Delinquency

Appendix A presents a summary of recent research on how delinquency develops, and its strongest predictors. Briefly, the family plays a critical role in this by:
  • transmitting antisocial attitudes and values
  • unsuccessfully disciplining antisocial behaviour
  • weakly encouraging prosocial skills
  • ineffectively discouraging association with a "negative" peer group, and
  • undermining the youth - parental bond via neglect and abuse

Thus, it is not surprising that (as noted in Appendix A) some of the most effective interventions to prevent future delinquency and treat high-risk young offenders have focused on families. The key characteristics of these proven programs include:

  • structured behavioural programs to teach prosocial skills (e.g. anger management) to youths and parenting skills
  • interventions with the entire family and not just the young offender (so future problems in siblings are prevented)
  • quality or integrity of program delivery, and
  • community-based services

There is no research evidence to favour the use of legal sanctions (e.g. custody), punishment-oriented approaches (e.g. boot camps), or routine casework/probation services. Yet this is the focus of most of the youth justice system. For example, about 75 to 80% of our Federal dollars are spent on incarcerating a minority of young offenders, leaving the rest for all types of community-based programs --- let alone the (rare) specialised types of intensive, family-based services noted earlier. Why don't we use what is proven to reduce youth crime, instead of what is convenient (the existing dependence on custody/probation sentences) or currently popular ("get tough approaches")?

The next section presents an overview of an innovative community-based type of service aimed at strengthening families reducing crime.

Supporting and Preserving the Family

"Family Preservation" is an intensive, short-term, home-based service model, aimed at:
  • enhancing the family's' ability to socialise its own children and prevent crime
  • reducing the family's dependency on the outside system of services
  • holding youths more accountable by ensuring immediate, "in-home" consequences for misbehaviour
  • reducing the criminal justice system's overreliance on custody

Currently, there are several hundred similar programs operating in the child welfare, mental health and youth justice sectors in the U.S., but only a handful in Canada.

Appendix A details several programs using this approach with delinquents, including one in New York City (Family Ties) which was recently tripled in size -- because it is anticipated to save $11 million in residential costs!

The next section presented a Canadian example of a family preservation program for young offenders.

A Model Family Preservation Program for Delinquents

Since 1989, St. Lawrence Youth Association has operated a service for the families of young offenders which has incorporated the treatment technologies or "best practices" discussed earlier within an intensive, family preservation model. Appendix B details the hallmarks of the program. As noted in Appendix C, Community Support Services has been independently identified as one of the top 10 programs for young offenders in the province. Its recidivism rates compare favourably to those released from custody and it saves money (about $250,000/year in residential costs to the Kingston area young offender system). It has produced reliable reductions in youth behaviour problems and increased social skills and family functioning. Consumers (parents, youth, probation officers, etc.) are generally satisfied with the service and have provided detailed feedback. Finally, its program evaluation model is comprehensive, practical and is integrated with routine service delivery.

However, this proven, cost-effective alternative to custody will likely close by April 1996, or at least be severely downsized, due to provincial cutbacks which favour legally mandated services like custody over community-based approaches. What can be done?

The Federal Government's Role in Crime Prevention and Rehabilitation: Recommendations

First, comprehensive strategies, such as those advocated by the National Crime Prevention Council, should be examined, since the young offender system alone cannot prevent crime. The combined effect of the child welfare, child mental heath and education systems impact on the prevention and treatment of youth crime. Therefore, youth justice reform is dependent on the broader system of services for children and families.

Second, we should follow the lead of the United States which has established hundreds of family preservation programs to control costs and to reduce the reliance of troubled families on the child welfare, mental health and juvenile justice systems. In fact, the 1993 Family Preservation and Support Services Act has authorised an additional $1 billion over a 5 year period to ensure that states develop the "front-end" of their service continuum and decrease their reliance on residential care. Canada can and should offer similar services that strengthen the family, treat current child problems and prevent future ones, and operate across all sectors of services to children -- justice, welfare and mental health.

Third, the government is challenged to redefine the current Young Offender Cost Sharing Plan to encourage more cost-efficient, proven and "front-end" services -- to reduce the current residential-community spending ratios from 80% vs. 20% to 50-50 now and 20-80 in the longer term. This is consistent with Justice Minister Rock's position. The increased financial emphasis on community-based services in general and family preservation programs in particular can save taxpayer dollars and reduce youth crime -- if "value for money" audits or program evaluation is built into the grant process.

While I am no expert on Federal-Provincial cost sharing, I can't imagine any rationales for not beefing up the current accountability process -- if we have a clear vision of the needed policy shifts and the desired outcomes for public safety.

Thus, the coming redefinition of Federal-Provincial cost-sharing arrangements can emphasise alternatives to custody via community-based approaches like family preservation -- to make better use of our shrinking federal expenditures on youth justice, and to impact on the broader goals we have for youth, families and society as a whole.


We can enhance community safety, even under current financial restraints if we "re-engineer" the young offender service system to:
  • use proven interventions to treat and prevent crime
  • support families, in a comprehensive and co-ordinated effort with other sectors, such as child welfare and mental health
  • offer intensive family preservation services as alternatives to custody for high risk youths
  • ensure that at least 50% (initially, and 80%, eventually) of financial resources are directed to community-based services, which are routinely audited or evaluated

The Federal government is urged to use the levers at its disposal to bring about radical change in service delivery that holds out the best promise of achieving the two goals of the youth justice system:

  • holding young people accountable in effective ways and
  • contributing to more secure communities

The levers are the legislative and cost-sharing not just for the young offender system but also for other federal programs which support families.

In sum, "we have the technology" in terms of the knowledge and examples of effective family and community-based services and the legislative and cost-sharing mechanisms.

Are we prepared to use all available means to transform the young offender system and narrow the gap between what we desire from our services and what we actually deliver?



Excerpt from the 1995 Annual Report of Community Support Services of the St. Lawrence Youth Association, pages 6 - 11.


Knowledge in the area of effective correctional treatment is growing at a considerable rate. Indeed, we recently indicated that, within the current climate of fiscal restraint, the one greatly under-utilised resource in the area of youth justice may indeed be knowledge [emphasis added]...knowledge, not unfounded opinion, must be the basis for decision-making in correctional treatment if we are to increase community safety and reduce human misery. The Rand Corporation studies...have demonstrated convincingly, financial savings, as well as the reduction of human misery and community victimisation can be achieved by offering effective service within a cost-benefit framework. Andrews' et.al. (1990) meta-analysis suggests that, although there is no 'cure for crime', reductions in reoffending of up to 40% are possible through the provision of effective service. This is no trivial matter and is a goal worthy of pursuit. (Leschied, Hoge & Andrews, 1993, pp. 34-35)

The Community Support Services program Model has been developed from a careful review of the literature on effective programs for delinquents. Over the last six years, we have continued to adapt the treatment orientation and procedures used by Family Initiatives (previously Alberta Family Support Services) with child welfare clientele to work exclusively with young offenders. See recent articles by Fixsen, Olivier, & Blase (1990) and Olivier et al., (1992) for further details on this intensive family preservation approach to child welfare services. Our program and Family Initiatives share the same broad goal of integrating the well-researched treatment strategies of the Teaching-Family Model (Phillips et al., 1974) with the service delivery strategies of the Homebuilders Model (Whittaker et al., (1990). The 1990 Annual Report provided some of rationales for the Community Support Services program Model based on the earlier literature. In more recent reviews of the literature:

  • Andrews, Leschied & Hoge (1992) comprehensively reviewed the literature on the development and treatment of young offenders. They identified 12 key characteristics of youth at risk of becoming offenders; the three most powerful individual predictors in descending order included: cognitions (values, attitudes, and beliefs supportive of crime); family factors (low levels of affection/cohesiveness and supervision/monitoring, poor discipline, and neglect and abuse); and peer influences (association with antisocial companions and isolation from non-criminal peers).

  • Several decades of research by Gerald Patterson have culminated in a recent work (Patterson, Reid, & Dischion, 1993) which provides detailed empirical support for his developmental model of antisocial or coercive behaviour. This model provides a developmental sequence for the risk factors identified by Andrews et al. (1992). The key stage (identified as Stage 1 in the model) reflects the fact that "the basic training for patterns of antisocial behaviour prior to adolescence takes place in the home, and family members are the primary trainers" (p. 11). Patterson identified various contextual variables (e.g., low socio-economic status or SES) which influence the development of poor family management skills in parents that in turn are key determinants of the development of antisocial behaviour. Research by Patterson and others indicates that it is the accumulation of three or more negative contextual factors that disrupts child rearing practices; the research targets the teaching of appropriate family management skills as an essential means to rehabilitate delinquents. Patterson explores the relationship between contextual variables, family management skills, and development of antisocial behaviour.

  • Farrington, et al. (1990) reviewed the literature on what is known about the onset of delinquency and concluded that "the age at which a first offence occurs is one of the best predictors of a future criminal career. Those who begin offending at an early age (before the teenage years) tend to commit large numbers of offenses over long time periods with high rates...Delaying onset may have beneficial effects. Early prevention may be a more effective strategy for reducing crime than later treatment" (p. 329). One implication of this finding is that as early as possible intervention is best.

  • As a way of summarising the developmental factors that place youths at risk for delinquency, Leschied et al. (1993) developed the Risk/Need Assessment Inventory. Its items cover areas such as: criminal history, family circumstances and parenting, education, peer relations, substance abuse, leisure/recreation, personality/behaviour, and attitude/orientation. In this way, they expanded the definition of "high risk" as one that pertains strictly to criminal history, to one which now recognises the relevance of a much broader range of dynamic risk factors which characterise youths who become or remain antisocial in their behaviour. When this particular scale is introduced across the province, the young offender system will have the capacity to deliver its services with an enhanced awareness of criminogenic risk and need.

  • Andrews et al. (1992) identified the characteristics of effective interventions for young offenders which include: short-term behavioural/systems family counselling; structured one-on-one paraprofessional program in which the helpers were encouraged to be of active and direct assistance; intensive structured skill training; behavioural therapies focusing on developing new and prosocial ways of thinking, feeling, and acting; an effective assessment system based on evaluation of the youth's risk and needs; and careful matching of treatment based on an assessment of criminogenic needs.

  • Christensen and Jacobson (1994) reviewed research on psychological treatment delivered by paraprofessionals. They concluded that paraprofessional therapists usually are as effective as professional therapists are. The authors noted that the need for mental health services exceeds the supply of professionals and the potential costs savings afforded by paraprofessionals. This suggests that services delivered by nonprofessional therapies merit wider use and further research.

  • In Ontario, the young offender system has begun to increasingly rely on custody -- either open or secure. For example, data from the Southwest region (Leschied et al., 1993) indicate that one-third of young offenders proceeding through the court system receive a disposition of either open or secure custody; this represents a 100% increase over the 1984/1985 committal rate. However, recent evidence has also questioned the effectiveness of custody. In an Ontario study, two-thirds of the 456 youths discharged from custody reinvolved themselves in the justice system (via breaches and Criminal Code offenses) within six months (Hoge et al., 1993).

  • A model program that was seen by Leschied, et al. (1993) as an effective alternative to custody is multisystemic therapy, developed by Scott Henggeler. This approach targets risk factors within a delinquent's family, peer, and school network, but uses a home-based and intensive family preservation approach. As reviewed by Henggeler (1992), its effectiveness has been supported by several controlled evaluations in which youths were randomly assigned to receive either the multisystemic approach or mental health, educational, or vocational services. A study, shows that after one year of follow-up the family preservation approach, compared to the usual services, resulted in: fewer self-reported offenses (2.9 vs. 8.6), fewer arrests (.87 vs. 1.52), fewer weeks spent in residential placements (5.8 vs. 16.2), and a lower cost ($2,800 vs. $16,300). In fact, after more than a 2.3 year follow-up, the recidivism rate for the multisystemic therapy group was 65%, compared to the 83% recidivism rate for those receiving the usual services.

  • One of the 18 programs for the treatment of delinquents which was honoured in 1992 for its exceptional achievements in advancing juvenile justice is the Family Ties Program in New York City. Modelled after the Homebuilders approach to family preservation in the child welfare system, this program identifies the needs of each delinquent child and works to strengthen family functioning so that the youngster may remain at home. Referrals to this program are granted after a judge has found a delinquent guilty and has decided on a residential placement but agrees to suspend the disposition for up to eight weeks if the family is willing to work with the program. In a recent independent evaluation (Collier and Hill, 1993) counsellors from this program were able to recommend probation at the end of the eight-week adjournment in 65% of the cases and continued exploration of placements in 35%. Based on the cost of placement for children that was predetermined by the sentence, the City of New York and the State saved $2.7M in one year alone -- or about $3.00 in residential costs for every $1.00 spent on the program. The recidivism rate at one-year follow-up for the 40 youth served by Family Ties (20%) was significantly lower than a comparison group who had been placed in custody. Recently, the program was expanded from the borough of Brooklyn to include the Bronx and Manhattan. Anticipated savings are approximately $11M per fiscal year in residential costs for delinquents who otherwise would have been placed in custody.

  • Leschied et al. (1993) developed the Correctional Program Assessment Inventory (CPAI) in order to assess programs in terms of the criteria which have emerged from their recent literature review on effective correctional programming. This scale is composed of 56 items distributed across areas such as: program implementation; preservice assessment of clients; program characteristics; therapeutic integrity; relapse prevention; staff characteristics; program evaluation; and other concerns such as ethics and stability of programming. Hoge, Leschied, & Andrews (1993) reviewed Ontario-wide young offender programs and found that they averaged a score of .29 on the sub-group of scales reflecting treatment on the CPAI. The provincial average of .29 means that 29% of the 56 items were present across all Ontario programs. Sector specific averages were: probation, .21; open custody, .26; secure custody, .29; and, the 9 community support teams, .51. In fact, using the scoring guide provided by Leschied et al., it would seem that our Community Support Services program scored above .70 on the scale -- meaning that more than 70% of the program characteristics indicative of effective treatment were present.

  • Leschied, et al. (1993) reviewed 7 alternatives to custody programs in the Southwest Region and noted that the best 4 programs averaged scores of .54 on CPAI and, some community-based programs were seeing a larger portion of higher risk cases than are being placed in secure custody in their jurisdiction (when "high risk" is defined by the Risk/Need Assessment Inventory). This may have been because while young offenders in the community are proportionately higher risk, they have, on average fewer offenses. This may have been the reason they were in the alternative to custody programs as opposed to in residence.

  • Andrews et al. (1992) have continued to emphasise the importance of treatment integrity for programs treating delinquents. Key elements of therapeutic integrity include: a coherent and empirically-based theoretical model which links intervention with desired outcomes; risk/need levels of clients are specified and needs targeted for intervention; a detailed program manual; structured and formal training for practitioners in relevant theory and practice; meaningful supervision of practitioners; assessment of the therapeutic process in-program in order to determine adherence to principles and employment of techniques claimed to be employed; assessments are conducted of intermediate changes in the youths that are presumed to relate to desired ultimate outcomes; and the level and intensity of intervention are tied reasonably to risk, need and responsivity. Andrews, et al. (1993) have recently added to this knowledge on the importance of treatment integrity with a meta-analytic study of the role of program integrity in studies of family intervention with young offenders.



Excerpt from the 1995 Annual Report of Community Support Services of the St. Lawrence Youth Association, pages 12 - 15

As noted in the 1990 Annual Report, Community Support Services offers intensive, short-term, and flexible support to Phase I, 12 to 16 year-old offenders who are "at risk" of being placed in more restrictive residential settings such as secure custody, or need support in being reintegrated into the community from residential settings. As stated earlier, while the service delivery features of the program are based on the Homebuilders Model, its treatment technology is based on the Teaching-Family Model. From its original roots in a 1986 group home for delinquent adolescents called Achievement Place, the Teaching-Family Model has developed into an integrated service delivery system.

Today there are over 300 group homes across the United States of America and Canada that serve not only delinquents but also abused, neglected, emotionally disturbed, autistic, and developmentally challenged children and young adults. In addition, the Teaching-Family Model has been recently adapted for youths in parent training, treatment foster care, independent living, and home-based services. Over 100 publications on the Model have researched its effectiveness and carefully evaluated its individual treatment components over the past 27 years. In fact, over $30M of the United States' government funding have supported the careful research and detailed development of the clinical, administrative, evaluation, and supervision systems which ensure that the Teaching-Family Model is delivered with integrity. Appendix A provides an overview of the treatment, program, and treatment planning systems which have been carefully designed so as to provide an integrated series of systems which support the systematic implementation of the Teaching-Family Model. Articles by Fixsen & Blase (1993) and Bernfeld, Blase & Fixsen (1990) present the conceptual and research basis for program development and dissemination vis--vis the Teaching-Family Model.

While the Teaching-Family Model is the "heart" of Community Support Services, it is worthwhile to briefly review the hallmarks of Community Support Services as listed in Figure 3. Referrals are made by probation officers in the 6-county areas around Kingston.



The program is:

  1. Flexible The staff are: on-call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week; fit the family's schedule; and work with any problem (staff are generalists).

  2. Community-Based Specialists work wherever they are needed (school, home, etc.), but not in an office. They work in the family's context, to decrease problems in generalisation and maximise relevance and learning of the skills taught. Thus, staff are more like coaches than therapists.

  3. Intensive Treatment/Direct Service The intensive phase of service lasts 8 to 12 weeks with a 1-year follow-up. Caseloads are of 2 young offenders and their families at a time. Thus, at any one time, staff serve 2 youths in the intensive phase of service and 6 to 8 in the follow-up mode. On average, over 214 hours of service is provided of which 35% is face-to-face.

  4. Follow-up The intensive phase of service starts with 3 to 5 visits face-to-face per week and fades to once per week direct contact and several phone contacts weekly. Over the year-long follow-up, services gradually fade to monthly phone contact. "Booster sessions" are provided on a planned basis (e.g., at the start of a new school year), or are crisis-related as needed.

  5. Family-Centred The program works with the entire family with the goal of preventing problems in the younger siblings and strengthening parenting capacity. There are several referral tracks which encourage referrals not only for the purpose of reintegrating young offenders to the community and preparing older delinquents for independent living, but also of fostering a family preservation approach whenever possible. The latter refers to efforts to intervene with younger delinquents at home on probation who are "high risk" -- in the broader sense of risk established by the research of Leschied and others (as indicated in their Risk/Need Assessment Inventory).

  6. Teaching Specialists build on strengths of families and use a cognitive-behavioural approach to counselling to teach a wide range of skills to young offenders and their entire family. The service is individualised, practical, and skill-oriented. Teaching is matched between parents and children so that the parent is taught how to appropriately give an instruction and a youth is consequently taught how to follow an instruction; finally, the parent is taught how to effectively praise the youth. The goal is to develop positive, self-sustaining spirals of appropriate interaction between parents and children which will be maintained long after the direct service has ended.

  7. Basic Needs The family's needs for food, transportation, employment, budgeting, etc. are assessed and the focus is to teach the family skills in this area (e.g., how to successfully apply for a job), including self-advocacy.

  8. Goal-Directed Initial psychological testing which is part of the evaluation process, plus the program's intensive in-home assessment help develop the master treatment plan within the first 2 weeks of service. Thereafter, weekly and daily goals are derived and reviewed with supervisors and peers.

  9. Empirically-Based The research literature on delinquency led to the development of the Community Support Services Model.

  10. Decentralised/Professional Staff Staff serve the 6-county area surrounding Kingston, Belleville, and Brockville. As well, there are a total of 6 front-line staff working a 40 hour flexible work week along with 1 Director, 1 Supervisor, and 1 Administrative Co-ordinator.

  11. Staff Training/Supervision Supervision and training are key because intensive support is needed for employees working in an intensive service. Thus, there is a week-long, 40 hour Pre-Service Workshop, a 2 week orientation, and then weekly case consultations by the Supervisor, along with bi-weekly team meetings to allow for case reviews with peers, and bi-monthly In-Services to develop new program technology. In addition, there are monthly field observations in which the Supervisor observes the employees working with families during home visits and provides the specialists with written feedback.



For a detailed presentation of the data, see the 1995 Annual Report, noted in the References at the end of the Brief


From 1989 to 1995, Community Support Services has provided intensive, short-term, and flexible support to 174 youths to prevent residential placements of high risk Phase I (12 to 16 year-old) young offenders at the "front end" of the service delivery system and to assist high risk youth at the "back end" of the system in rerunning to the community. The following are rationales for Community Support Services as an alternative to custody and as a means of saving greater residential costs now and in the future--in other words, "paying some money now to save more later":

  • With respect to quality of service and "best practices," Dr. Leschied has identified Community Support Services as one of the top 10 programs for young offenders in the province. This is supported by the Hoge, Leschied, & Andrews (1993) study, in which the program exhibited more than 70% of the characteristics indicative of effective correctional programming -- including treatment integrity, relapse prevention, and cognitive-behavioural therapy based on the principles of risk, need, responsivity, and professional discretion.

  • A cost analysis indicated that for every $1.00 spent on Community Support Services over 5 years, about $1.48 might have been saved in residential care costs The data suggest that cost savings of $1,233,261 over five fiscal years could be attributed to Community Support Services -- or about $246,652 projected savings in residential dollars to the young offender system per year. However, these estimated savings: do not reflect savings to other children's sectors; cannot account for the program's impact in preventing problems in siblings; only cover a 15 month time frame; and reflect initial residential placements and not multiple placements. Thus, these modest savings are suggested to be a conservative estimate of the benefits of the program.

  • With respect to recidivism, during the 15-month follow-up period, 44% of the young offenders reoffended by incurring new Criminal Code convictions and 11% incurred breaches. This 55% recidivism rate after 15-months compares favourably to the 67% rate reported by Hoge, Leschied and Andrews (1993) based on 6 month follow-up for open custody in Ontario. Moreover, the data indicated that Community Support Services achieved reliable reductions in the seriousness of offences, the total number of offences, the number of multiple convictions, as well as a longer interval between offences.

  • Client benefits demonstrated by the program's outcome evaluation model included a reduction in youth behaviour problems and parent-child communication problems, as well as an improvement in youth social skills and family functioning. Consumers (parents, youths, probation officers, etc.) were generally satisfied with the program and provided detailed feedback.

  • Community Support Services is an exemplar in the field of how program evaluation can serve not only as a vehicle for external accountability to funders, but can also to facilitate the internal process of clinical decision-making and service planning. The evaluation system is multi-modal in scope, which means that data are collected on multiple aspects of service (adaptive and behaviour problems of youth and families, placements, costs and client satisfaction) from multiple perspectives (parent, youth, probation officer and other agency staff) with multiple modes of data collection (subjective ratings, objective frequency counts/cost data, and qualitative comments). This multi-modal approach assists the program managers in applying a "broader and deeper" program evaluation perspective, in a practical and cost-effective manner, which is integrated with routine service delivery.


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Ms. Mary Lynn Cousins- Brame
Acting Program Director, 
Community Support Services, 
St. Lawrence Youth Association, 
845 Division St. Kingston ON K7K 4C4
(613) 542-9634

Please make cheque payable to The St. Lawrence Youth Association

Revised September 4, 1998.
comments to: gary@bernfeld.ca
© Copyright Gary A. Bernfeld 1996-98. All rights reserved.