Serving Youth through Systems Integration

Article excerpt

This past January, 14-year-old David Bennett* was resentenced to six more months of treatment at a juvenile detention center for the death of his 11-year-old cousin. David lived in a rural community with his two older sisters and mother, who would often accommodate other family members for extended periods of time. In the summer of 2004, David and his sisters were removed from the home and placed in foster care. David was 11 years old. The reunification of the family took less than one week; however, during the next year and a half David and his sisters would find themselves in and out of foster care several more times.

The severity of problems surrounding David and his family pinnacled in December 2005 when their home caught fire. Most were able to escape physically unharmed, with the exception of Serena, David's 11-year-old cousin, who died in the fire. Within two weeks David and his sisters were back in foster care. The following week David was arrested for setting the fire that burned down his home and took his cousin's life.

David, who was 12 years old at the time, was adjudicated delinquent and placed in an adult jail. Several months later he was moved to a secure juvenile detention treatment center with specialized programs that address emotional behavioral issues that lead to delinquent behavior. David, now 15, is being transferred to a less restrictive residential facility His sisters, for reasons not having to do with the fire, are in foster care and have two hours of visitation with their mother every month.

Opening Communication

While David's case is very extreme, it exemplifies what so many practitioners see on a regular basis: dually involved youth, or youth who have been served by both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. An increasing amount of research is now available to support the undeniable relationship between child maltreatment and delinquency. The child welfare and juvenile justice systems often serve the same children, respond to similar issues, and ultimately desire the same positive outcomes for the youth and communities they serve, "Yet, traditionally and typically they work in exclusion of one another.

Across the country, communities are starting to recognize the link between these two systems and are taking extraordinary steps to bring agencies together to best serve dually involved youth. Such collaborations have been able to eliminate the duplication of assessments and services, provide seamless processes easily navigable by families, reduce the time youth spend in detention, strengthen families and stabilize home environments, reduce recidivism, and improve the overall outcomes for dually involved youth. To reach these goals, communities are developing interagency strategies that pool resources, increase information sharing, formalize interagency case coordination, and establish cross-systems training of staff.

The Child Welfare League of America established the Juvenile Justice Division in 2000 through the support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which also led to the development of CWLAs Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice Systems Integration Initiative. This initiative uses a careful, methodologically designed action strategy to assist jurisdictions wishing to improve outcomes for their youth and communities. In the last eight years, states and communities encouraged by the leadership, dedication, and successful outcomes demonstrated in the many jurisdictions that have undertaken this initiative have moved forward with similar objectives. The Juvenile Justice Division strives to provide CWLA members (and other public and private youth-serving agencies and organizations) with useful tools, resources, and publications to help further their worthy goals.

Successful Collaborations in the United States Virgin Islands

In June 2006, CWLA provided a keynote address at the U.S. Virgin Islands Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Symposium that initiated dialogue encouraging the collaboration of various agencies to better serve their children and youth. …