As funding gets tighter, research advances and professionals within multiple systems tasked with the care of youth realize the need to work together, a pattern is emerging regarding specific groups of youth. One group is made up of those who experience abuse or neglect and end up part of the child welfare system. Awareness these youth end up disproportionately part of the juvenile justice system shows both systems need to collaborate to meet the needs of these crossover youth.
Crossover youth have involvement with the child welfare system and the juvenile justice system. Categorization of these youth is in its beginning stages. A Breakthrough Series Collaborative (BSC) on Juvenile Justice and Child Welfare Integration established three definitions to clarify these juveniles:
Crossover Youth: Any youth who has experienced maltreatment and engaged in delinquency. This is the broadest definition, because it refers to mistreated youth with such experiences regardless of whether the maltreatment and/or delinquency have come to the attention of the child welfare and/or delinquency system.
Dually-Involved Youth: A subgroup of crossover youth who are simultaneously receiving services, at any level, from both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.
Dually-Adjudicated Youth: A subgroup of dually-involved youth, encompassing only those youth who are concurrently adjudicated by both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.
Regardless of which definition is used, the main issue is these youth need multi-system collaboration to have the chance to successfully transition into adulthood and reduce the likelihood of moving from the juvenile justice system into the adult system. As professionals in both child welfare and juvenile justice, we have the ability to ask questions, recreate paradigms and decrease the number of youth who fall into our systems.
Why is it important?
“There is a cartoon photo that depicts a scarecrow with his arms across his chest and his fingers extended to point in opposite directions,” states Helen Jones-Kelley, JD, Co-Chair, BSC in her Executive Summary. “Whenever I see it, it reminds me of the entities that broadly comprise our child serving system. For far too many years, mental health, education, child health, and especially child welfare and juvenile justice have pointed their fingers at each other when explaining why our collective system of care doesn’t work seamlessly on behalf of young people.” As professionals, it is our duty to not go with the status quo just because these thought patterns or systematic approaches have been the way we have always done things. As juvenile justice professionals we must keep in mind the goal of prevention and decreasing the impact of juvenile behaviors. We have to prevent ourselves from getting callous and believing delinquent youth are just going to end up criminal adults. I have been accused of living in a glass house when it comes to criminal behavior and intent of young people and I dispute that because I am aware of the harm and destruction created by youth. I also intend to keep my focus on helping young people with an awareness of emerging neurological science and a continual open-mind. I do not believe I am alone in this realistic optimism for our future generations. Part of this open-mindedness includes an understanding that the issues of crossover youth must be addressed.
Research has firmly established a relationship between abuse and neglect and later delinquent behavior. In one of the first and most cited studies, Cathy Spatz Widom found that child abuse and neglect increased a juvenile’s risk of arrest for nonviolent crime by 55 percent and the risk of arrest for violent crime by 96 percent. Research has also shown that once a youth with child welfare involvement engages in delinquency, he or she is more likely to become deeply involved with the juvenile justice system. This engagement and penetration presents many issues and challenges for all the organizations responsible for the care of youth, including child welfare and juvenile justice.