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Transforming Juvenile Justice: How Orbis’ YASI Tool is Making a Difference

Posted by Orbis Partners on Jun 12, 2024 12:30:00 PM

Whether you are in the midst of juvenile justice reform or seeking enhancements to deliver the right services to youth, leveraging the right assessment tool can have an enormous impact. Assessment is fundamental to everything that happens in juvenile justice services. It’s not only a first step, but assessment should be involved in every subsequent step across the continuum of services for justice-involved youth.

There are many risk/need assessment tools out there. But what’s the best fit for your jurisdiction? Over the past thirty years, new tools have become available to address the complexity of serving justice-involved youth and achieving positive outcomes. If you are considering alternative tools because your current risk/needs assessment seems outdated, or if you are considering a tool to implement for the first time, here are some questions you can ask.

How comprehensive is the tool?

  • Does it offer the ability to triage assessment?
  • Does it include strengths?
  • How well does it reassess?
  • Does it have a structured case planning model?
  • Does it have extras like useful and innovative features available in assessment software?

In this blog, we will provide some ideas to help answer the questions and tell you about how Orbis’ Youth Assessment and Screening Instrument (YASI) addresses these questions.

How comprehensive is the tool?

The current context of juvenile justice services involves numerous youth presenting with complex, multiple, and interrelated needs. Most tools incorporate at least a minimum of criminogenic needs that can help inform the development of a case plan. Other assessment devices offer only cursory measurement of key elements or fail to assess problems in sufficiently dynamic ways to identify change over time. In some settings, there is a need to help connect the youth and family to services that may not be immediately criminogenic but may help clients reach a higher level of well-being that allows them to work on the needs that are directly related to their juvenile justice involvement. While some practitioners prefer brief assessments that require a minimum of administration effort, such tools may omit key information that can be essential for helping youth get on the right path. Often longer tools can be completed just as quickly because of the availability of information. This allows for multiple factors to be examined in a comprehensive fashion. Even when your organization may not be charged with addressing certain needs (e.g., health, material needs, mental health, trauma), having a comprehensive tool can provide a fuller picture of the youth’s situation. For example, some non-criminogenic needs can be important responsivity factors, and measuring such factors can often help explain some aspects of a youth and family’s behavior.

The Youth Assessment and Screening Instrument (YASI) assesses up to 12 domains including standard factors with demonstrated links to future juvenile justice involvement, along with measures of mental health and trauma (e.g., adverse childhood experiences) and optional domains focusing on basic needs (like food or shelter insecurities) and physical health concerns (unmet medical needs or access to health insurance). YASI domains are well-linked to standard services like cognitive behavioral interventions (YASI Aggression, Adaptive Skills, and Attitudes Domains) and the results are displayed in a colorful graphic format. The diagram provides a detailed profile of the youth’s risk, needs, and strengths and allows the assessor to examine linkages between elevated need and strength factors. A narrative (described below) brings the comprehensive information together in a concisely written report that can be shared with a variety of stakeholders involved in serving youth.


Does it offer the ability to triage assessment?

Especially in settings with large intake rolls, some juvenile justice practitioners desire to minimize the amount of assessment activity that is devoted to lower-risk youth, who ultimately, will not need intensive services. The idea is that weeding out low-risk cases early in the intake process can free up resources to provide a more comprehensive assessment of youth who need the greatest attention. In many jurisdictions, lower-risk youth account for up to 50% of referrals! Such cases often display multiple protective factors and can be safely diverted or offered low-frequency reporting and minimum intervention. Moderate and higher-risk cases, on the other hand, will need more services and more supervision to minimize risk/needs and build strengths. The YASI Pre-Screen is an abridged version of the full assessment battery that is well-validated for early identification of youth who possess higher probabilities of recidivism. Using about a third of the items (33) that comprise the full assessment (88 items), the YASI Pre-Screen can be administered quickly using a minimum of static and dynamic factors. In some settings, there is sufficient information to conduct the Pre-Screen assessment at the pre-trial stage. Again, the Pre-Screen allows practitioners to efficiently divert their time and services to youth who are in greatest need. Many organizations value this feature of the YASI assessment model because it offers them considerable efficiency.

YASI Pre-Screen Resultsjuneorbsblog2

Does it include strengths? 

More and more, practitioners are asking for assessment solutions that incorporate strengths or protective factors. Tools that have at least a minimum of content related to strengths are beginning to appear. The incorporation of strengths in both the YASI Pre-Screen and Full Assessment is one of the most appealing features of our assessment and case planning model! Orbis and other researchers have conducted a number of validation studies demonstrating that YASI strength measures predict juvenile justice outcomes and contribute incremental predictive information in addition to risk/need factors. For example, studies have shown that at each level of risk (low, moderate, and high), youth with higher strengths have better outcomes than their counterparts with lower measured strength levels. This can be particularly important to know for lower-risk cases with lower strengths who have been shown to recidivate and 2 or 3 times the rate of lower-risk cases with high strengths! The incorporation of strengths is not only useful for prediction purposes. But probably even more importantly, measuring strengths and sharing the information with youth when developing case plans, increases motivation and mobilizes youth to participate in the development of success plans. The inclusion of strengths also supports Motivational Interviewing (MI) practices and other relational-based approaches to mobilizing positive youth outcomes. Being able to reliably demonstrate that YASI strengths increase throughout exposure to case management, is also a rewarding feature for caseworkers!

How well does the tool reassess?

The complaint that assessment tools are not dynamic enough is a frequent criticism we hear from juvenile assessment practitioners. Dynamic refers to the ability of a tool to provide reliable measurement of change over time. Many tools are structured so that dynamic and static factors are aggregated together in a way that makes it difficult to see when youth are making good progress (or decline). This leads to frustration when caseworkers are not able to see advances in reassessments in the key areas they have focused on. YASI provides greater sensitivity to change upon reassessment by ensuring that static and dynamic factors are reported separately. Measures of need and strength only contain dynamic content. This makes it much easier to gauge change on reassessment. For example, in the family domain, static factors (like histories of family problems) are removed from the calculation of family needs so that only dynamic factors make up the need levels. This helps case workers focus on youth characteristics that are dynamic in the case planning context, as opposed to static factors that cannot be reversed. Static factors are still measured, are predictive, and sometimes function as responsivity factors. However, when it comes to measuring progress on a youth’s case plan, dynamic factors must be the focus. When examining the characteristics of risk/need assessment tools, ensure that the tool you choose has plenty of dynamic indicators and that the dynamic measures in the tool predict independently of static factors.

With the YASI software, a number of features have been incorporated to make reassessments easier to conduct and present the findings in relevant ways. Once a reassessment is conducted the results are shown in graphic format with indicators of change (deltas) displayed for domains where the assessment detected movement. Users are reminded by the software when assessments are overdue, and when they conduct reassessments without reviewing certain domains. Finally, the YASI statistical reporting function provides performance-related data on the number of cases that evidenced improvements, no change, or declines in progress over reassessment periods.

Does the tool use a structured case planning model?

Some assessment tools leave it to the administrator to figure out how to use results for case planning. In such venues, we frequently hear “I have the results but I don’t know what to do with them” from case workers who do not have a structured method to move from results to the actual work with youth. Sometimes workers assess and build case plans in separate software platforms that prevent a smooth transition from results to action plans. Moreover, they lack practices that help mobilize the youth’s motivation and involvement in success planning.

YASI and our Collaborative Case Work model provide a step-by-step mapping process for determining the most likely path to success. The process is built into the YASI software (CaseWorks), allowing case managers to build, record, and track progress on case plans. With moderate and high-risk cases, assessment tools typically identify multiple elevated and interrelated needs.


Where do we start? How do we choose which high-need domains to address first? Our Collaborative Case Work model provides case managers with the tools to make decisions that cannot be decided on the basis of scores alone. Using a dynamic software interface users can drill down into the results to get the information they need for case plan judgments, all the while involving the youth in the process.

Our collaborative model is derived from Motivational Interviewing practices that seek to invite the youth into the success-planning process. That starts with assessment feedback when the youth first learns that they have strengths in addition to challenges. YASI users are provided with a tool kit of methods for boosting the youth’s participation in the development of the success plan. Use of the tools is a game changer for many practitioners who indicate that youth respond very positively to the experience. With some tools, the assessment process ends with risk and need scores, either calculated by hand or by software. However, the YASI Collaborative Case Work model focuses on the actual steps of how to use the information to best serve the interests of the youth and greater public safety concerns.

Are there useful and innovative features available in the assessment software?

Some assessment tools may be cost-efficient, amenable to manual scoring, and useable with or without software. However, many managers and youth practitioners are looking for more sophisticated devices that can provide easy methods for data entry and validation, generation of results in informative ways, analysis and reporting, quality assurance, and the ability to develop case plans in an integrative fashion. With YASI CaseWorks software, the assessment data entry pages have built-in consistency checks that notify users when the information they entered is inconsistent across items. There are also reporting features to monitor the relative completeness of assessments and to email staff when reassessments are overdue. In terms of results, users can view and create PDF versions of the results and case plans. The YASI software also comes with built-in statistical reports that can be generated at the click of a button and filtered for a variety of youth characteristics, sites, staff, and reporting periods. The YASI Narrative Report is another feature that is very popular among YASI users. The software gathers all of the information entered in the assessment and provides a computer-generated report that highlights the risks, needs, and strengths presented by the youth. The narrative can be saved as a PDF, printed, or edited to reflect any privacy or special information needs that a report-reader might have. Narrative reports could be shared with court officials, supervisors, collateral contacts, or referral agents that will help with a youth’s case plan.

Narrative Report


We invite you to delve into the specialized assessment services offered by Orbis Partners. Our youth risk, need, and strength assessment tools are specifically designed for at-risk client groups served by the criminal justice and human services systems. These tools guide the casework process by taking into account each youth’s unique needs and strengths. For more information about our youth assessments, visit our youth assessment page or contact us!

Orbis Partners provides solutions for criminal justice and human services systems, specializing in designing and implementing services for at-risk client groups. Orbis' risk, needs, and strengths assessment tools are designed to guide the casework process by incorporating an individual's unique set of needs. For more information about our assessments, visit our Assessments page. 

Written by Orbis Partners