Building a Brighter Future For Dual Status Youth

“It’s hard to legislate love. But we can mandate that a child is connected to communities, where love does exist.” - Jesse Aguiar, Youth Leader

On April 30th, 2018, The Children’s Partnership and the Robert F. Kennedy National Resource Center for Juvenile Justice convened local, state, and national leaders in Washington D.C. to lay the foundation for a pathway forward for dual status youth— youth with child welfare and juvenile justice system involvement. Participants at the convening, “Developing a Trauma-Informed Roadmap to Prevent Juvenile Justice Involvement of Child Welfare Youth: A Moral and Fiscal Imperative,” sought to identify promising frameworks and practices to address youth’s exposure to adversity and trauma in order to support their healthy development and prevent future system involvement, where possible.

Youth leaders from both coasts, including representatives from the Youth Justice Coalition and Journey House, set the tone at the start of the day. During a panel moderated by Jennifer Rodriguez from the Youth Law Center, these young advocates shared compelling stories from their experiences with child welfare and juvenile justice systems, emphasizing the importance of family, meaningful relationships, community, love, and healing as essential tools to improve overall health and well-being.

The most important takeaway was a shared understanding and urgency to break the cycle of abuse, neglect, and trauma for youth– both before system involvement and while in contact with the child welfare or juvenile justice systems. The importance of providing mental health and social support was reiterated throughout the following activities during the day:

  • A five-jurisdiction panel representing California, Georgia, Massachusetts, Illinois, and Wisconsin shared examples of effective multi-system coordination and collaboration, including innovative solutions to the challenges presented by dual status youth cases. During afternoon workshops, participants were able to discuss challenges, identify solutions, and explore current opportunities to strengthen protective factors and build resiliency for dual status youth.
  • Researchers noted that persistent maltreatment and neglect can be detrimental to youth. Denise Herz and Carly Dierkhising, researchers from the California State University, Los Angeles, presented multijurisdictional findings concluding that youth who have contact with both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems are at an increased risk for negative outcomes. Jacquelyn McCroskey, a professor at the University of Southern California and co-director of the Children’s Data Network, also emphasized the importance of community-based interventions to support youth and families.
  • Workgroup participants stressed that dual status youth are not two-issue or two-system populations, but rather part of multiple systems—child welfare, juvenile justice, healthcare, and education just to name a few. Because their issues are unique, a multisystem response is necessary to disrupt compromised pathways.
  • Dual status youth typically experience higher rates of adversity and complex trauma. As a result, it is important to educate and empower youth, families, and systems to address these issues. As one youth leader noted, “We can’t talk about foster care if we are not investing in our families.”
  • Technology-based solutions are crucial to addressing barriers to collaboration, coordination, and implementation of a trauma-informed approach. Rafael Lopez, former commissioner of the Administration for Children, Youth and Families, and Sixto Cancel, CEO and Founder of Think of Us, urged participants to adopt innovative solutions that bridge the gap between the public sector, service providers, and courts. Cancel highlighted the importance of reversing the damage caused to the developing brain by fostering positive connections to peers, families, community organizations, and schools to help build support systems for youth.

At the conclusion of the day’s convening, participants acknowledged the challenging work ahead, but collectively committed to developing solutions for some of these challenges facing dual status youth. As Cancel said, we owe it to our youth to exhaust all options, “… To help support, build, and develop youth.” Working together to put the well-being of children and youth first, we will.

As follow-up to the convening, The Children’s Partnership, with input from convening attendees, is developing a Policy Roadmap to ensure youth impacted by both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems are safe, healthy, and thriving. Visit the event page for more information and convening day materials here. Follow our progress via @KidsPartnership and @RFKChildren on Twitter and Facebook.

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