Yesterday, Senators Gary Peters (D-Michigan) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) introduced legislation to address the needs of the nation’s most at-risk youth.
The Child Outcomes Need New Efficient Community Teams (CONNECT) Act seeks to improve outcomes for youth in contact with both the juvenile justice and child welfare systems. The act would authorize grants to facilitate cooperation between, and data collection by, state agencies.
Many youth in both the juvenile justice and child welfare systems have a history of trauma, mental health conditions or substance abuse issues that require specialized treatment. These children also often experience poor educational performance, higher recidivism rates, higher detention rates, disruptive living arrangements and substantial behavioral health needs. Research estimates in a press release shared by Sen. Grassley’s office show that as many of 55 percent of children in the juvenile justice system have had previous contact with the child welfare system.
According to Grassley, these children and young adults, known as “dual system,” “dual status” or “crossover” youth, are likely to fall through the cracks and experience additional challenges due to lack of coordination between the juvenile justice and child welfare systems.
The bipartisan legislation comes on the heels of a recent research and pilot program in California and Illinois, which specifically seek to ameliorate these challenges. In May, National Foster Care Month, the issue received attention in a Senate judiciary hearing, and it seems to have gathered steam in the months since.
“We need more information about who these young people are and the challenges they face so they have a fair shot at a path to success,” Senator Peters said in the press release. “I’m proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation that will help states better identify dual status youth and develop programs that will give our nation’s most vulnerable children a chance to lead strong, happy lives.”
The grants offered through the bill would be administered by the Department of Health and Human Services.
The passage of the CONNECT Act has been endorsed by a number of child welfare advocates, including Christine James-Brown, president and CEO of the Child Welfare League of America; John Tuell, executive director of the Robert F. Kennedy National Resource Center for Juvenile Justice; and Marie Williams, executive director of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice.
“Child welfare and juvenile justice experts need to work together to keep vulnerable youth safe, off the streets, and away from a life of crime,” Grassley said. “Our bill encourages state and local agencies to work as a team to develop best practices and better policies to help at-risk youth and ultimately to produce better, positive outcomes.”