As the U.S. emerges from more than a year of uprising over racial injustice and the over-policing of youth and people of color, state and local governments looking to better serve young people who are in foster care or the juvenile court system can draw on a thoroughly researched guide to improve outcomes for youth, families and the systems that serve them.
The workbook, created by the Robert F. Kennedy National Resource Center for Juvenile Justice, offers proven successful results for youth known as “dual status” from across the country — from reduced recidivism rates to stabilizing home placements.
Dual-status youth are young people who have experience with both the juvenile justice and child welfare systems. The national resource center, based in Massachusetts, produced the Dual Status Youth Technical Assistance Workbook to give local and state governments support and consultation to develop better practices, procedures and policies that serve these young people.
The workbook provides detailed steps and timeframes for a four-phase process that encourages collaboration between youth-serving agencies, such as child welfare departments and juvenile justice systems. The resource center continued to provide training, technical assistance, resources and consultation despite the pandemic, to work alongside child-serving government authorities to continuously accomplish goals set through the workbook, last updated in March 2021.
“There are far too many jurisdictions that don’t develop the coordination for the child welfare and the juvenile justice system, and these youth end up being tossed about,” said John Tuell, executive director of the resource center. He has spent nearly 20 years of his career working in the juvenile justice system.
The workbook serves as a guide for agencies creating partnerships with local leaders like policymakers to develop targeted services like drug or mental health treatments and home stability solutions. One obstacle that local governments can face when bridging the gap of agency collaboration is maintaining youth and family confidentiality and privacy that is required by law to uphold. Tuell said that this is a challenge that can be addressed and worked through within the workbook.
Often, child welfare and juvenile justice systems lack effective communication because agencies focus solely on their own missions. Tuell said each system tends to hide behind a mandate. In doing so, these juvenile justice and child welfare systems pass a young person’s case around thinking that responsibility falls on other systems, resulting in poorly managed cases that can negatively affect youth.
“The solution is created when we agree to work together and serve the true interest of that young person and their family or caregiver,” Tuell said.
Tuell’s career has shown him the negative consequences when these young people are not provided with support and services that genuinely help. “I worked as a probation officer for some of that time, and I worked with kids who would be now known as dual-status youth, and a couple of them didn’t make it … they took their own life,” Tuell said.
A few years ago, the Ohio Supreme Court sponsored the national resource center’s workbook for regional training and the state has shown evidence that it works, Tuell said. “They’re diverting kids from formal involvement, they’re reducing their re-involvement in the juvenile justice system, they are stabilizing their family situation, they’re stabilizing their placement if it’s not within their original family,” he said. “They’re getting treatment and services, targeted treatment and services for those kids in behavioral health, in mental health, substance abuse and educational support.”
Tuell said that while the progress in Ohio can be replicated elsewhere, it requires government leaders and officials to work within their own sectors to find solutions that fit best within their administrations.
“If more states would make the kind of commitment that Ohio has made, then we would have more opportunities in states across the country to develop procedures and policies and protocols that truly do serve these youth effectively and provide future opportunities for them as if they were our own kids,” Tuell said.