NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Multisystemic Therapy Involves Parents Of Juvenile Offenders

May 10, 2000

MST stands for Multisystemic Therapy -- a juvenile justice program that encourages parents to get tough on their delinquent children.

MST therapists work in a family's home -- not in an office. They hold intensive daily sessions with family members for four months to strengthen parenting skills -- the chief advice being to set clear and consistent rules.

Therapists help parents find school services -- such as tutoring or special classes -- and they encourage friends to help supervise troubled teens while parents are away. MST also concentrates on getting children away from badly-behaving peers.

There is some evidence the program is successful, and cost-effective:

  • In eight clinical trials, MST cut recidivism by 25 percent to 70 percent relative to control groups.
  • The program succeeded with sexual offenders, drug users and mentally troubled youths.
  • MST currently serves 2,500 teens in 21 states, at a cost of $5,000 to $6,000 per family compared to about $29,000 for typical out-of-home treatment.

And when model programs are expanded, they often become mired in "a bureaucratic, place-holding, pencil-pushing, unenthusiastic routine," he cautions.

Source: Kevin Butler, "In Era of Tougher Juvenile Sentences, One Program Tries to Involve Parents," Investor's Business Daily, May 10, 2000.


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