WASHINGTON — Youth workers and researchers urged better collaboration between child welfare and juvenile justice to help young people who end up in both systems at a Capitol Hill hearing on Tuesday.
The Senate Judiciary hearing, held as part of National Foster Care Month, looked at how jurisdictions across the country are finding ways to help “dual status” or “crossover” youth by sharing information, staff and responsibility for outcomes.
Those practices are not the norm everywhere.
“In many jurisdictions, the child welfare system and juvenile justice system have little or no interaction or coordination, and even simple information sharing is limited or nonexistent,” said Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa.
The lack of information sharing means jurisdictions find it difficult to identify crossover youth, said Macon Stewart, senior program manager at the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform at Georgetown University. The center helps counties and states improve care for crossover youth.
“This blind spot is what often leads to the uncoordinated, chaotic experience that youth and families face when becoming dually-involved,” she said.
In Iowa, the child welfare and juvenile justice systems worked with Georgetown’s crossover-youth project to find ways to improve the lives of crossover youth, said Lisa Nelson, a juvenile court officer in the 3rd Judicial District Juvenile Court Services Department in Iowa.
The state uses a one judge/one family approach that keeps hearings and reports together, has regular cross-disciplinary meetings and has hired mental health and educational specialists to work within the juvenile justice system to address young people’s needs.
The changes have helped drive a reduction in the number of youth in group homes and fewer crossover youth in detention, though the state is always working to further improve their model, Nelson said.
“We are continually reminded this work is a living relationship,” she said.
In Beltrami County, Minnesota, officials also have implemented a crossover youth program with the help of Georgetown.
Jeff Lind, social services division director in Beltrami County, said the project has formalized relationships that already existed to make them most effective. Child welfare and juvenile justice officials now have a process to follow when youth are brought up on charges, which includes working with families to improve outcomes.
“At its heart, the dually-involved youth program is collaboration. It’s communication and looking at the totality of a youth’s situation and looking at extenuating circumstances of that youth’s charge,” Lind said.
Stewart said the federal government can help local jurisdictions and states improve services for crossover youth by:
- partnering with youth and families to develop strategies;
- developing and supporting strategic partnerships;
- supporting information sharing and mandating reporting on outcome measures;
- developing coordinated funding strategies, including fiscal incentives for states that reduce crossover youth rates; and
- supporting research and evaluation of what works for crossover youth.
Stewart also said leadership is key when local and state jurisdictions commit to helping crossover youth, no matter the size of a county or the extent of its needs.
“We push leaders to get together. There has to be a shared commitment,” she said.
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