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.

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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.

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A Consolidated Court System gives Dually Involved Youth a Better Chance for Positive Outcomes

Dually-involved youth (DIY) in jurisdictions without a consolidated system in place, could have two separate cases, before two separate judges, each with different goals. If this wasn’t confusing enough, the two court systems might not have coordination, cooperation, or communication. The child could be represented by two different lawyers and would be assigned a probation officer and a social worker, which could have very different case plans that include contradictory orders and services that interfere with one another. Each of these stakeholders plays an important role in making decisions that can affect DIY for the rest of their lives.

Because DIY present more complex issues than single-jurisdiction youth, they tend to drain already scarce resources from child welfare agencies, probation departments, and the courts. This can happen when agencies duplicate case management efforts. Additionally, because there are multiple parties involved, usually with differing goals and means of achieving them, costs can add up and their plans can be less effective than if there was a consolidated effort to provide a unified plan administered by cooperating agencies. I will not be addressing financial costs in this post; in the next post I will discuss financial costs and how having a unified system of courts and service programming will benefit all of us as a society. In this post I will focus instead on some of the challenges raised by having DIY report to multiple agencies and/or courts and show the advantages for DIY in jurisdictions using an integrated systems approach.

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Who are dually-involved youth? And why do we need DIY courts?

Many children who are involved in the child welfare system and juvenile justice system go back and forth between dependency hearings and criminal proceedings. Along with this come visits with social workers, probation officers, and usually some kind of social services for the child and family. Because this group of children are involved in two legal systems, they are called “dually-involved youth.” (DIY) A significant number of DIY have been affected by some form of childhood trauma and they are often underserved as they move between the juvenile justice and child welfare systems. Due to the trauma affecting these young people and a lack of stability in their lives, they generally need more services than youths involved in only one legal system. In this post I will describe dually-involved youth and the problems they face as well as why we need dedicated DIY Courts. In the next post I will discuss how DIY Courts work and how using an integrated systems approach helps solve these problems.

We need Dually Involved Youth Courts to help the most vulnerable young people.

Because there is no national data on dually-involved youth I will use data from various jurisdictions that have studied this population to show how these children are affected by being dually-involved. The fact that there is no national data demonstrates how little we know about this group as a whole. As a result, we are forced to use limited information when designing policy to combat the negative effects of dual-involvement.

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Doing It Yourself hurts Dually Involved Youth

My name is Aaron Rojas, I am a second year law student at Santa Clara University. I grew up in San Jose and have had to overcome my fair share of obstacles to get where I am today. While completing my undergraduate degree at San Jose State University, I spent time volunteering in the Franklin McKinley School District. Many of the children I mentored faced tough academic challenges as well as challenges at home. I could tell that these challenges would eventually contribute to their struggle for success later on in life. It was this experience that motivated me to attend law school because I feel I will be able to have a greater positive impact on my community. This semester I plan on learning more about the intersection of the foster care system and the juvenile justice system.

Dually Involved Youth (DIY) programs provide wrapped services for families who are involved in both the foster care and juvenile justice systems. This approach increases the child’s chance of achieving positive outcomes, including educational achievements (like graduating from high school or college) and life success (like maintaining a job, having housing, and staying out of prison). DIY programs facilitate communication between different service providers to provide access to the best combination of services for the family. Increased communication leads to better problem solving.

The problem is that DIY programs are not the standard in many jurisdictions, meaning many of the most at risk youth get inadequate services. By increasing communication between the agencies involved, better decisions can be made in placement of children and services for both parents and children. I will propose making DIY programs standard in jurisdictions across the U.S.