Integrated Dually-Involved Youth Courts are Beneficial for Everyone.

Now that we are familiar with the population of dually involved youth (DIY) and we see how using an integrated systems approach is beneficial for them, I will, in this post, explore why this model is not used more often and propose policy changes to implement it in more jurisdictions across the United States.

As a threshold issue, figuring out exactly which jurisdictions currently use an integrated systems approach for dually-involved youth can be tricky because many jurisdictions that use an integrated model have different variations of it, and I have not found any one resource that lists them all. The reason for the variations is that, although using integrated models is helpful for DIY, using a one-size fits all approach is unlikely to get the best results for any one place. Each jurisdiction should implement an integrated model in a way that is best for their particular community. The most comprehensive list of jurisdictions using an integrated model I have found uses the Crossover Youth Practice Model (CYPM). According to this data, 103 counties in 21 states have implemented or are in the process of implementing the CYPM. To put that in perspective, there are 3,142 counties or county equivalents in the United States, which means only about 3 percent of counties in the United States use this model. This number, of course, does not take into account jurisdictions using another version of the integrated systems model.

DIY courts are not the norm. Why are they not implemented more?

One possible reason DIY courts are not the norm could be due to a lack of publicity. In 2017, over 443,000 children in the United States spent time in foster care. It is estimated that about 25 percent of those children will be involved in the criminal justice system within two years of leaving care.  This figure does not include the children already involved in the juvenile justice system while they are in some sort of foster care. Using these numbers as a guide, if we estimate that every year somewhere between 150,000 and 200,000 children and young adults will be involved in both the foster care and criminal justice systems, that is only .06 percent of the population of the U.S. Given that such a small percentage of people fit into this category, it is easy to see why more people are not aware of the difficulties of treating DIY.

Continue reading “Integrated Dually-Involved Youth Courts are Beneficial for Everyone.”
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Gangs as Pseudo-Families: Giving Youth What They “Need”

From the outside looking in, gangs are comparable to family systems. In fact, as I will explain below, some gangs explicitly refer to themselves as “families” or “brotherhoods” and have mottos that encompass this familial idea. Robert Muller, a psychologist specializing in trauma, explained “that young adults join gangs because they both act as a surrogate family, as well as provide a sense of belonging…” Based on interviews conducted with current and former gang members, Muller stated:

Several gang members said that being part of a gang meant you were never alone in the world, which is similar to how many people describe being part of a close-knit family or group of friends. Gangs provide members a sense of belonging and protection they do not receive from other relationships or experiences in life.

(emphasis added)

Is this sense of belonging and protection what attracts children to gangs in the first place? The interviews Muller relied on revealed that “Bloods, Crips, and MS13 members all say they can identify with ‘Scarface.’ The feeling of being an outsider, dismissed and looked down on, is what gang members say drew them to their crews.” This explains why children in the foster care system may be more prone to joining gangs: they are often times, unfortunately, labelled as outsiders and looked at differently in comparison to children who are not involved in the child welfare system – a key reason they may feel alone and like they do not belong anywhere.

Continue reading “Gangs as Pseudo-Families: Giving Youth What They “Need””

Inequality for Youth: Why Do Foster Youth & Juvenile Offenders Receive Different Treatment?

I. Introduction: How Does Society Want To Treat Its Children?

            There is a shared belief in society that children should grow up in environments that are conducive to living healthy and productive lives. There are certain things that we believe that all children need and deserve. Those beliefs are even enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which sets out the rights that must be realized for children to develop their full potential: to be free from hunger and want, neglect and abuse. When these things might be lacking, society has in place mechanisms to try and remedy those deficiencies. Judge Leonard P. Edwards, in an article for the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, wrote that “[w]hen the family fails or is unable to rear its child within acceptable norms, society has an interest in intervening to achieve its own goals.” Children are our future and it is the shared goal of a society to raise them as best we can. However, there are times when circumstances compel the state to act in the best interest of the child.

            It is because of that fact that society has procedures and systems to protect and nurture children to the best of our ability. Some youth are removed from their unsafe homes and placed into foster care and some youth commit offenses and are then incarcerated. In my last post, I wrote about how children in the juvenile justice system face similar traumas as children in the foster care system might experience and are often even the very same children, yet the treatment they receive is vastly different. The question is why? What is different about the youth that would necessitate a difference in treatment? These youth are often the same and they have all experienced similar trauma. Yet, because of a few different circumstances surrounding the trauma these youth might be experiencing (being removed from their homes and placed in foster care vs. being removed from their homes and being incarcerated) they receive different support.

            Society also collectively believes that children under a certain age lack a “level of maturity, thought process, decision-making, and experience” compared to individuals above the age of majority. We therefore generally distinguish between children and adults with regard to criminal culpability “We punish [criminal acts] because we believe such harm is morally deserved by a particular individual for a particular act.”  However, is that what we want for our children? We recognize that children should be treated differently than adults and that rehabilitative measures would be better for them and society, yet the reality is considerably different. In Miller v. Alabama (2012), a 14-year-old committed murder and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The Supreme Court held that mandatory life imprisonment without parole for those under the age of 18 at the time of their crimes violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment, writing “that children are constitutionally different from adults for purposes of sentencing. Because juveniles have diminished culpability and greater prospects for reform…they are less deserving of the most severe punishments.”

There is certainly a different societal view on the two populations, foster youth and juvenile justice youth, but they are all still children and youth that are deserving of all that we believe children deserve. Both systems can be traumatizing, but we tend to think one set of youth deserve what they are getting because they have committed some criminal/delinquent act. This is especially true for children and youth that commit particularly heinous or violent crimes because instinctively, we believe they should be punished.  This idea is given credence in Chief Justice Roberts’s Miller  dissent, where he wrote “society may determine that [protecting the innocent from violence] requires removing those guilty of the most heinous murders from its midst, both as protection for its other members and as a concrete expression of its standards of decency.” Yet the fact that these children and youth still are treated differently despite experiencing similar trauma is unjust. These children all deserve similar support when they experience difficult circumstances.

            In this post I will go through a brief overview of the criminal justice system and juvenile justice system as well as the theories underlying them. Then I will discuss issues with the juvenile justice system and its implementation and some of the realities of juvenile justice. I will also discuss some reforms to the issues addressed. Finally, I will discuss possible policy suggestions and further plans of action.

Continue reading “Inequality for Youth: Why Do Foster Youth & Juvenile Offenders Receive Different Treatment?”

Youth within the Foster Care System Don’t Have “Families”

Families are the cornerstone of America’s social fabric. They are also the foundation for human development. Maslow’s hierarchy is a theory that people have a five-tier hierarchical set of needs: physiological needs, a need for safety, a need for love and belonging, a need for self-esteem, and a need for self-actualization. The family as a unit tends to create positive outcomes in almost all aspects of a child’s life because a family typically provides stability, love, comfort, support, protection, and a sense of belonging, along with so many other basic necessities that are essential to the overall development of a child. Although many children, especially children who are involved with the foster care system, emerge from what society considers “chaotic” families, those families still provide some sense of comfort and foundation for the child

Because children in the foster care system live apart from their biological parents, there is often times a disruption in their development of attachment and sense of belonging to their biological family, which occurs while they are trying to form new relations with their caregivers in the foster care system. If a child is provided with a secure and nurturing environment, he or she is capable of making positive developments; however, if the child is unable to find that security and comfort in at least one of their adult caregivers, he or she may begin to seek out and form attachments to undesirable social influences, such as gangs.

Continue reading “Youth within the Foster Care System Don’t Have “Families””

Stage 4 of 4: How Schools Can Improve the Academic Achievement of Youth with Trauma

I. Introduction

Part of what drove me to law school was a desire to leave the teaching profession. I left undergrad in 2008 and had been working with kids ever since. What I learned very quickly was that many of the youth I worked with had needs that I could never meet. The needs they had were not just educational. Many of the times they had emotional needs that I did not know how to handle. I cared SO much and yet felt so helpless. 

For my research this semester, I focused on youth in the foster care system as well as foster-adjacent youth because they ALL deal with some type of trauma. These youth have behavioral issues inside the classroom as a result of trauma from childhood (see my first post for more on how trauma directly impacts a youth’s education). The educational data is shocking. Youth in foster care are severely behind in reading, writing, math, and graduating from high school (for more on this, please see my second post). Most recently, I looked at what I thought were the 6 most common barriers that schools (teachers in particular) face when confronted with a student with trauma (post three). 

All of this research has led me to this final stage. How can schools effectively address the educational and emotional needs of youth with trauma? In this paper, I will discuss the various ways that schools can overcome the barriers I mentioned in my third post by examining how and why schools need to become “trauma-informed”, provide extracurricular activities, provide more counselors and reduce class sizes. 

Continue reading “Stage 4 of 4: How Schools Can Improve the Academic Achievement of Youth with Trauma”

Race Matters- Solutions to Address the Compounding Problem

In my first post I talked about why race matters in the child welfare system. In my second, I narrowed the focus to talk about why race should be considered in foster care placement decisions. I also acknowledged a significant limitation to considering race in placement decisions: the major shortage of foster homes. In this post, I will talk about potential solutions to the problems I discussed. While there are many ways in which I believe the child welfare system can be improved, I am limiting myself to three things that I believe can be done fairly easily in order to address race in placements: use kinship placements as much as possible, recruit more families of color, and provide better training to foster parents involved in transracial placements.

I would also like to recognize that none of these ideas is new or novel in this conversation, but I’m talking about them because they aren’t currently the norm. I believe that they need to be implemented on a much wider scale, and one way to start that process is simply by talking about them and letting people know that, first, there is a problem that needs to be solved, and, second, there are existing solutions that just need more support. Continue reading “Race Matters- Solutions to Address the Compounding Problem”

Race Matters- Let’s Consider It

As I argued in my first post, race matters when making decisions in the foster care system. Children of color are overrepresented in the system and have poorer outcomes. I also discussed how this is likely tied to the ideas of the white savior complex and implicit biases. One way that I believe we can combat some of the negative impacts of implicit biases and the white savior complex is to consider race and culture in children’s foster care placements. In this post, I’ll discuss why it’s important for race to be considered in placement decisions, and what is currently being done–and not being done–to consider race. I’ll conclude with how I believe race should be considered and the current limitations of racial considerations.

Who makes the decisions about race and culture?

Parents make all kinds of decisions related to their child’s upbringing; they make decisions about their education, what kind of religious upbringing they may have, what kind of food they eat, whether or not they can have sleepovers, what time curfew will be, etc. Included in these decisions are choices parents make related to what culture the child will be raised in, and how the parents will tackle the issue of race with their child. Many of us may take for granted that parents are allowed to make all of these decisions for their child, because to do so is a legal right. The Supreme Court held in Meyer v. State of Nebraska (1923), that parents have the fundamental right to control the upbringing of their children as they see fit. Continue reading “Race Matters- Let’s Consider It”