The solution to curbing juvenile arrests and improving permanency for abused and neglected children? Better collaboration between the systems that serve many of the the nation’s most at-risk youth, witnesses told the Senate Judiciary Committee this week.
“By increasing communications between child protection and juvenile correction services and utilizing comprehensive, coordinated, case planning, Beltrami County hopes to reduce both the recidivism and costs associated with out-of-home placements,” said Jeffrey Lind, social services division director of Beltrami County for the Minnesota Department of Human Services, speaking about local efforts to better coordinate the two systems.
The hearing, which also marked the midway point of National Foster Care Month, focused on the outcomes of “crossover youths,” those adolescents and teens who are arrested while in the custody or under the supervision of the child welfare agency.
“National Foster Care Month is an appropriate time to recognize that as many as two-thirds of youth referred to juvenile courts had some level of involvement with the child welfare system”, said Sonya Brown, a community engagement coordinator for Boys Town in Louisiana.
Brown detailed how her own arrest, for running away from a foster care placement, disrupted her life:
“When the officer collected everyone’s ID, he found an outstanding warrant for my arrest due to running away the year before….Because 17-year olds are treated as adults in Louisiana, this time I was taken to an adult correctional facility for women. I spent four terrifying days incarcerated for the status offense of running away, mingled with grown women who committed actual crimes. I never saw a judge. There was no due process.”
Local estimates of crossover youth by other witnesses were lower than Brown’s, but not by much. “We have found that over half of juveniles who get charged with delinquency-level offenses have or have at some point had children’s services involvement,” said Lind.
In Iowa, a third of the crossover youth were arrested for something that happened at a group home or foster care placement, according to Lisa Nelson, a court officer for the Third Judicial District Juvenile Court System for the State of Iowa.
Nelson said better and early identification of crossover youth is an important first step.
“Currently we are in the second phase of creating a process that can identify and notify line workers of dual-system-involved youth,” said Nelson. “It is a significant step towards early identification of vulnerable children. We have seen a reduction in group care numbers and far fewer crossover youth being held in detention.”
Among the recommendations made by witnesses were more federal support for substance abuse and mental health services, and reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act.
A current reauthorization bill, passed by the Judiciary Committee, missed passage in the full Senate because of a hold placed on it by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.). The bill would remove the ability of judges to detain youth for “status offenses,” including running away, an action frequently taken by foster youth unhappy in a placement.
Glenn Daigon is a freelance reporter and also works for the Laborers International Union of North America in Washington, D.C.
John Kelly also contributed to this story.