Juvenile Justice: Crossover Youth

Child abuse and neglect increase a juvenile’s risk of arrest for nonviolent crime by 55 percent and the risk of arrest for violent crime by 96 percent. A multi-system approach is necessary to meet the needs of these children and protect the society of...

The ethical requisite to address crossover youth exists, but so does the legal obligation. The Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Act now includes a requirement that juvenile justice agencies better address the needs of youth who are at risk for delinquency due to a history of child abuse and neglect. “As a prosecutor in Miami, Florida, I represented the government in cases involving child maltreatment, as well as those alleging delinquent behavior,” explains Shay Bilchik, JD, Director, Center for Juvenile Justice Reform. “Although these two types of cases seemed quite different, it didn’t take me long to see how they intersected with one another. The ‘face sheets’ describing the prior history of the juvenile offenders told the story of the pathways they had followed, invariably starting with entries of abuse and neglect, leading to status offenses such as truancy, ungovernable behavior, and running away, and then into delinquency.”

We need to hold youth accountable while at the same time promoting positive development.

What can be done?

Like most issues, a one-size-fits-all solution to working with crossover youth does not exist. What is necessary is a multi-system approach and support at all levels of all the agencies involved. The BSC was one way one group of agencies got together and worked on practical evidence-based solutions to helping these youths. With support from the Casey Family Programs, the second cross-system BSC was created using BSC methodology in the field of juvenile justice. This BSC methodology looks at the system from a holistic perspective and integrates the collective wisdom of those involved in the change process. It gathers ideas and knowledge and facilitates action to advance systematic change. Through partnership with the Georgetown University Center for Juvenile Justice Reform, seven states (with a variety of agencies) were accepted into the BSC. These sites were the practice ground for intellectual exchange, programmatic collaboration and through their experience a model developed for others to institute their own multi-system approach.


One of the biggest challenges to a multi-system approach is that systems, for example child welfare and juvenile justice, as well as agencies within systems have individual missions, visions and goals which drive policies and practices. These are often seemingly very different. A closer looks usually reveals each system or agency foundational principles can act as common ground. At the heart of these organizations and most professionals is the desire to help children. Once a common ground is found, the biggest obstacle seems to be a misunderstanding about what the other systems do. Dialoging about system goals can bring each back to the foundation or common ground. Developing a synchronized path includes establishing how to provide services, access and share information, expend funding and ensure appropriate oversight of case management. This will take time, but with work from professionals involved, at all levels of each system, we can serve the needs of youth who are at-risk for entering adulthood wards of our system. 

Jones-Kelley sums these changes and opportunities up well, “I have always believed that we have most of the answers we need to enable us to better serve crossover youth; we simply need to create the opportunities for them to surface.”


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Michelle Perin worked as a police telecommunications operator with the Phoenix (AZ) Police Department for eight years. She has an M.S. in Criminology and Criminal Justice from Indiana State University and writes full-time from Eugene, Oregon. For more information, visit www.thewritinghand.net


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