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Experts Offer Strategies for Preventing Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice Crossover

We knew the pathway existed,” Shay Bilchick said during the opening of Preventing Youth from Crossing Over Between the Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice Systems, a webinar held Wednesday by the National Training & Technical Assistance Center, a program of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

As a prosecutor working the family court circuits in Florida, Bilchik -- now the founder and director of the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform (CJJR) at Georgetown University’s Public Policy Institute -- noted an apparent connection between child abuse and neglect and delinquency cases, referring to such crossover youth as a “challenging” population. 

Shortly after Bilchik joined the Public Policy Institute in 2007, the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform and Casey Family Programs worked together to create the Crossover Youth Practice Model. This model stems from the Juvenile Justice and Child Welfare Integration Breakthrough Series Collaborative, developed in the mid-1990s by the Associates in Process Improvement, Casey Family Programs and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement.

According to Bilchik, certain methods, policies and practices can “interrupt the trajectory” of crossover between child welfare and juvenile justices systems. Serving as the webinar’s moderator, he introduced three speakers with extensive experience in “crossover prevention.”

“These young people are our young people,” said CJJR Program Manager Macon Stewart. “Prevention is a collective responsibility.”

Stewart said that crossover youth entails three categories of juveniles; those that have experienced some level of maltreatment and delinquency -- typically referred to simply as “crossover youth” -- as well as dually-involved youth and dually-adjudicated youth. The primary difference between the latter two, Stewart said, is that while dually-involved youth, to some degree, have been involved in both systems, dually-adjudicated youth have been “formally involved” in both systems through court actions.

Stewart noted four primary pathways in which youth crossover between child welfare and juvenile justice systems, noting that juveniles with open child welfare cases and subsequent delinquency charges represented the “most dominant form of crossover.”

Although many factors influence crossover youth, Stewart cited placement instability, the absence of pro-social bonds and challenges in educational settings as the three most common.

In evaluating crossover youth, Stewart advised communities to collect data on previous referrals, placement types, number of placement moves and especially individual pathways to crossing over. “The data is key in this,” she said, urging stakeholders to establish “a memorandum of understanding” around data sharing.

Stewart suggested that prevention efforts focus on building collaborative relationships with local law enforcement, placement providers and schools, emphasizing “time-limited” and “very targeted” approaches. She advised that foster home and residential placement personnel should have trauma-informed training and encouraged the use of student mentors and advisors for at-risk youth. She also advocated the use of school liaisons, so that stakeholders could concentrate on “what can you do as opposed to focusing in on what you can’t do.”

“Prevention strategies in L.A. have been going on for many years,” said Maryam Fatemi, the deputy director of Los Angeles County’s Division of Family and Children Services. She said that the county adopted their initial process in 1997, resulting in a pilot project, called the AB 129-Systems Integration Initiative, in 2007. By 2012, an updated protocol called the Los Angeles County Crossover Youth Initiative -- which is anchored around multi-departmental, joint assessments -- had been implemented countywide.

Citing a 2011 study funded by the Hilton Foundation, Fatemi said there was a definite connection between prior child abuse and neglect and juvenile delinquency. The adult outcomes for crossover youth, she said, were many times tragic.

“Nearly one quarter of crossover youth received treatment for a serious mental illness during the first four years of adulthood,” she said.

Fatemi promoted the use of multi-system strategies, specifically multi-disciplinary teams and collaboration with existing school-based programs, as a means of preventing youth crossover. “Education and employment services provide key opportunities for intervention,” she said.

Children in group homes are a population Fatemi is particularly concerned about. “Youth living in a group home when arrested are more likely to be detained in juvenile hall than youth residing in other types of placement,” she stated. To deter youth crossover, she advised that group homes engage in sharing data with other departments and give feedback to other agencies about staff turnover and delays in service.

Mick Moore, assistant to the Superintendent for Interagency Relations with the Puget Sound Educational Service District and a senior education consultant in King County, Wash., helped develop the PathNet model, which is designed to help crossover youth achieve “alternative pathways” to education, particularly when they lack sufficient credits to obtain a high school diploma.

“Stability is a key factor in limiting crossover,” he said. The PathNet model consists of four primary modules, which include strength-based assessments, student-driven plans, connectivity to proper educational and vocational programs and the assistance of a “care manger,” which Moore described as “a significant adult there to help them.”

Moore referred to the program as “an immediate step to the next connection in education and vocation.” In 2010, House Bill 1418 was officially adopted by the Washington Legislature, creating a statewide program to reengage youth that are “significantly” behind in academic credits.

Using braided funding models, a number of programs designed to help crossover youth were established, among them a dropout intervention program targeting Latino youth called “Avanza” as well as a project called “Pathway through Apprenticeship,” which helps community college students connect with local businesses and industries.

Moore ended his presentation by stating that crossover youth require consistent, dependable services, which may take many years to develop.

“Instability is one of our greatest problems with these youth,” Moore concluded. “Reengagement into education and vocation with crossover youth is a process, not a singular event.”

Photo by the OJJDP.

Foster Care Meds Bill Spirit Lives On In New Pilot Program

Rep. Oliver

A bill aimed at preventing the overmedication of Georgia’s foster children might be dead this legislative session, but the spirit of the legislation lives on in a new a pilot program underway, its sponsor says.

House Bill 23, the Foster Children’s Psychotropic Medication Monitoring Act, did not make last week’s critical “Crossover Day” deadline to advance to the state Senate, but Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur) has confirmed that Casey Family Programs has stepped in to help assess the problem that the measure sought to address.

The Seattle-based national foundation is funding a review of prescription patterns of psychotropic drugs for children in Georgia’s foster care system. The effort comes on the heels of a state Supreme Court report that found many children in state custody for extended periods are prescribed psychotropic drugs at “alarmingly high rates.” Casey has not yet disclosed the amount of money earmarked for the program that unofficially began in February. The Barton Child Law and Policy Center at Emory University Law School will operate the program, in partnership with the Georgia Department of Human Services (DHS) and other community partners. Along with a review of red-flag cases it will also include training for child welfare workers, says Barton Center Executive Director Melissa Carter.

“Many children in foster care have been traumatized and are in need of quality mental health treatment; however, multiple overlapping layers of prescription drugs is not always quality care,” says Rep. Oliver.

She has agreed to hold off on pressing forward with her bill until the pilot program findings are released early next year. “This Casey Family Programs grant will help us develop a plan for better mental health care and I am grateful for their timely participation,” she says.

Rep. Oliver contends she drafted HB 23 as a result of the Georgia Supreme Court’s “Cold Case” project. The effort sponsored by the high court's Committee on Justice for Children was aimed at improving the legal process for abused and neglected children in the courts, she says.  The committee conducted an intensive file review of the cases of children who have been in the foster care system long-term, found high psychotropic drug use among them and completed a report that included law and policy change recommendations.

Carter

As drafted, HB 23 bill would require DHS to keep records of the medications and other therapies that foster children receive or for which they get recommended. Rep. Oliver insists 2012 will begin with the measure committed to the House Health and Human Services Committee.

“This pilot program with Casey will help us to strengthen the legislation and ultimately make better informed recommendations on how to solve this serious issue in Georgia,” she says. “Passing this legislation would allow Georgia to take the lead on addressing a serious problem that is also prevalent nationwide.”

Carter says although the bill did not advance further this session, Rep. Oliver’s decision to introduce it was very helpful. “It got the broader attention of stakeholders, much broader than even our [Barton Center] work had done,” she says. “It helped to bring to the table everyone interested in addressing this issue. This pilot program is a direct result of that.”

Commissioner Reese

DHS Commissioner Clyde L. Reese, a former Department of Community Health commissioner, calls the Casey effort “an excellent public‑private partnership” between the courts, physicians and the Barton Center. Carter agrees.

“Casey Family Programs is a large supporter of child welfare programs in the state so, it was an obvious partnership,” she says. “We’re also meeting with DFCS (Division of Family and Children Services) to make sure what we’re doing aligns with their goals. We’re all involved and working together on this to improve outcomes for children in foster care.”

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Got a juvenile justice story idea? Contact JJIE.org staff writer Chandra R. Thomas at cthom141@kennesaw.edu. Thomas, a former Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Journalism Fellow and Kiplinger Public Affairs Journalism Fellow, is an award-winning multimedia journalist who has worked for Fox 5 News in Atlanta and People, Essence and Atlanta magazines.

Crossover Day Is Here: The Latest On Juvenile Justice, Child Focused Legislation

Today is Crossover Day — the critical mid-point in the legislative session, when Senate bills move over to the House and House bills transition to the Senate. Any House bills that have not passed their chamber of origin will not progress in 2011. Because this is the first year of the  two-year legislative cycle, any bills that fail to cross over may still be considered in 2012.

Here’s an update on some of the legislation pertaining to young people in Georgia and juvenile justice issues that JJIE.org has been following.

Senate Bills

  • SB 31 would expand attorney-client privilege to cover parents' participation in private conversations with defense attorneys representing their children in delinquent or criminal cases. The bill introduced in January by Sen. Jason Carter (D-Decatur) gives the child – not the parent – exclusive rights to waive the privilege. This measure passed the Senate on February 23 and now awaits consideration by the House Civil Judiciary Committee.
  • Introduced last month by Sen. Joshua McKoon (R-Columbus), SB 80 would require any person, including a juvenile arrested for a felony offense, to give a DNA sample.  It would be analyzed and kept in a database by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. The Senate State Institutions and Property Committee voted affirmatively on it last week. It now awaits consideration by the full Senate.
  • SB 105 proposes to establish a three-person juvenile parole panel appointed by the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) commissioner. The petition for parole could be brought by either the child in custody for a designated felony or DJJ. It requires a recommendation by a DJJ counselor placement supervisor no less than a year after the child has been in the department's custody. Sponsored by Sen. Emanuel Jones (D-Decatur), it was heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee (SJC) March 4 and awaits further consideration by the committee. Sen. Jones has told JJIE.org that he will support a similar bill, HB 373 (see description below), if necessary. “The key is getting something out there that works,” he says. “If HB 373 gets passed, let’s go with it. I wholeheartedly support it.”
  • SB 127, also known as the Juvenile Code Rewrite and Child Protection and Public Safety Act, has not yet made it out of the SJC, making it more likely that it won’t advance any further this session. That would be a major blow for supporters who have been involved in the rewriting process since 2004. Some local child advocates are hinting off the record to JJIE.org that some exciting updates are expected on this soon. Sen. Jones says SJC chairman Sen. Bill Hamrick tells him that supporters of the measure have been “in discussions with Governor [Nathan] Deal about this.” JJIE.org, of course, will keep you posted on any new developments.
  • SB 208, the Dropout Deterrent Act, has been assigned to the Senate Education and Youth Committee (SEYC). Introduced by Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) on March 4, this bill proposes to raise the age that children are required to be in school from 16 to 17 years of age.  The parent of a 16-year-old would be allowed to sign a waiver allowing the child to go to technical school or community college instead of a traditional public school. The measure is similar to SB 49 introduced by Sen. John Albers (R-Roswell). It proposes to raise the required school age from 16 to 16.5 years of age. “That one might be debated on Crossover Day and if it gets pushed through I will support it,” says Sen. Fort. “My bill increases the age to 17, although I prefer 18.  I think 17 is a good compromise. The fact of the matter is that thousands of young people drop out and do so at a great cost to themselves and the rest of the state. If thousands don’t show up for 11th grade they’re more than likely going to end up in the juvenile justice system. More than half of those in the system now don’t graduate high school and we end up paying for them on the back end with prison and public assistance.”
  • SB 224, introduced by Sen. Jones on March 7, would limit the cases where children age 13 or older would automatically be tried for aggravated child molestation in superior court rather than juvenile court. Only cases where the victim is physically injured would immediately go to adult court. “This is a very good bill designed to keep cases in juvenile court rather than having these kids tried in adult court,” says Sen. Jones, a Georgia Legislative Black Caucus member. “A lot of states are beginning to do this. This protects juveniles by ensuring that kids who commit these infractions, especially when it is consensual, can stay in juvenile court where their records can be sealed and they have a real shot at rehabilitation.” The bill has been referred to the SJC. “This measure has bi-partisan support and we’re looking for [another bill] to attach it to,” notes Sen. Jones. “Any time a bill comes through we can amend that bill as long as it addresses the same chapter and title. HB 373 (see description below) would be a great vehicle for us. If that bill continues moving forward we’ll attach it to 373 and let it ride along!"

House Bills

  • Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver’s (D-Decatur) Foster Children's Psychotropic Medication Monitoring Act, also known as HB 23, is likely dead for this session. It would have required the Department of Human Services (DHS) to create procedures to ensure that the psychotropic medication administered to children in foster care is appropriate and delivered with informed consent of the parent. Children over the age of 14 could also provide their own consent. The bill would have also required DHS to keep records of the medications and other therapies received or recommended by the child. Rep. Oliver has agreed to drop the measure for the time being, according to Kirsten Widner, policy director for Emory University’s Barton Child Law and Policy Center. The center has received funding for a pilot program that would better track the medications foster children receive. The endeavor is a partnership between Casey Family Programs, a Seattle-based national foundation, and DHS. “Rep. Oliver has agreed to hold the bill for now and see how this pilot program goes,” says Widner. “We’re really excited to work with Casey Family Programs.”
    Adams
  • The House Non-Civil Judiciary Committee has given a favorable recommendation to HB 185, also known as the Runaway Youth Safety Act. The measure, sponsored by Tom Weldon (R – Ringgold) now awaits consideration by the full House. It would allow homeless shelters to provide emergency housing and services to runaway children. It also prevents facilities that serve runaways from violating two state laws: contributing to the unruliness of a minor and interference of custody of a parent, so long as staffers either contact a parent or file an abuse report within the first 72 hours of contact with the child. “This bill allows shelters to care for the child up to three days as long as they are trying to reunite this child with their parents or guardian,” explains Normer Adams, executive director of the Georgia Association of Homes and Services for Children. “It also requires these shelters to be registered and follow certain best practices in regard to child welfare.  These requirements are necessary to assure that those who are providing substitute care are accountable to someone for the care rendered.”
  • HB 200, which seeks to toughen the penalty for sex traffickers and improve outcomes for victims, passed the full House on March 2. The measure introduced by Rep. Edward Lindsey (R-Atlanta) now awaits consideration by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. “Committee Chairperson Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Gwinnett) has said she will make it a priority,” says supporter Shelley Senterfitt of the non-profit, Georgia Women for Change. “We are happy that it made it over before Crossover Day, but we won’t count our chickens before they hatch. I try not to anticipate anything, but we haven’t heard anyone express concern with it.” Key provisions include an expanded definition of “coercion” in the human trafficking statute (including causing or threatening financial harm), prohibiting defense by blood relation (such as parents exploiting their children) or by marriage (such as a husband “selling” his wife). It significantly increases penalties for human traffickers who target minors. Those arrested for sexual servitude would be treated as victims, not criminals, eligible for victim’s compensation. Children being prostituted would still be arrested, but could use an “affirmative defense,” allowing the child to avoid prostitution charges.
  • HB 314 would allow children in foster care to leave school to attend court hearings in their deprivation cases without being counted absent for part or all of the school day.  Also known as "Jessie's Law," the bill passed the full House last week.  Sponsor Rep. Tom Dickson (R-Cohutta) now awaits assignment to a Senate Committee.
  • The “Good Behavior bill” also known as HB 373 pushes for more discretion among juvenile court judges. It passed through the House Monday – just in time to meet this week’s critical deadline. The measure, which has been formally endorsed by DJJ and the Council of Juvenile Court Judges, would allow judges to review the sentences of designated felons who have served part of their terms for consideration for early release. A motion could only be filed after the child had served a year in custody and could not be re-filed more than once a year.  Backed by Rep. B.J. Pak (R-Lilburn), the bill is now headed to the Senate where it will likely be heard by the SJC.
    Rep. Pak
  • HB 471 seeks to require that an objective, written assessment instrument be used to determine whether detention of a child in a Regional Youth Detention Center (RYDC) or alternate out-of-home setting is appropriate for a child who has been arrested.  Sources tell JJIE.org this bill is dead mainly because the governor's office has not had time to determine if it will cost the state more money to implement it. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs), who still supports the bill and intends to sponsor it again next year. The measure also clarifies that keeping a child in secure detention prior to adjudication and disposition should be done rarely and only if less restrictive options have been determined to be inappropriate.
  • Rep. Donna Sheldon’s (R-Dacula) HB 529 would expand the professionals required to report child abuse or neglect to include  reproductive health clinic staffers. The bill has been referred to the House Non-Civil Judiciary Committee.

House Resolutions

  • Rep. Roger Bruce’s (D-Atlanta) HR 9 introduced last month would create a joint study committee to look into the causes and effects of teen violence.  The resolution calls for a joint study committee made up of six appointed members to issue a report including possible legislative recommendations by January 2012.  HR 9 has been referred to the House Children and Youth Committee.

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Got a juvenile justice story idea? Contact JJIE.org staff writer Chandra R. Thomas at cthom141@kennesaw.edu. Thomas, a former Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Journalism Fellow and Kiplinger Public Affairs Journalism Fellow, is an award-winning multimedia journalist who has worked for Fox 5 News in Atlanta and Atlanta, People and Essence magazines.

Michelle Barclay: Cold Case Teen Finds Forever Family Just in Time for Christmas

As I drove up to Goshen Valley Boy’s Ranch in the pouring rain with Sue Badeau from Casey Family Programs in the seat beside me at 8pm, I had moments of doubt.

I asked James’ case manager earlier in the day, “Is James OK with seeing us tonight?”

“About as excited as a 15 year old boy can be,” she answered, which did not comfort me.

When we arrived at the lovely but lonely set of houses set in a wide expanse of woods and views, we were informed that James* had gone to bed, disappointed that we had failed to show way past the agreed upon hour.   But he did come out and joined us for a two-hour conversation about his permanency goals.

We had gotten permission for Sue to do permanency counseling with James.  His foster care file starting at age 4 was full of deeply disappointing encounters with adults.  Too many had rejected him.  His file also said that he had told his DFCS caseworkers to leave him alone, that he would ‘disrupt’ if he was pushed into an adoptive home.  He wanted to “age out”.

His wishes appeared to be honored, but a review of his file seemed to show that while James had bad matches with adults, he still was making good grades, was very smart and had few behavior problems.  A nagging question kept bothering us, why couldn’t our child welfare system find this young man a forever family?

In Sue’s counseling interview, James turned out to be direct and engaging, very adult.  He had lots of detailed plans for his future.  At first, he held on to his assertion of “leave me alone” but Sue pushed him without challenging him.  She said, OK, we just want to make sure.

What about holidays?

They don’t matter.

What about an inheritance?

Not important.

What about grandparents for your future children?

His face softened.

Finally, after a lot of frank conversation, he yielded.  “I would love a family.” he said, “I just don’t believe it will happen for me.”

Sue very importantly acknowledged that his file indicated that the system had been careless with him as a child.  But, she said, you are older now and can play a bigger role in choosing your new family.  I want you to treat it like dating. Take your time, meet a number of families, choose carefully.  There are families who really like teenagers, she assured him.  We can work with people who can find them.

We ended with promises to try anew.  I finally spoke and asked if James knew the attorney assigned to his case.  He didn’t think he did, he wasn’t sure.  I then asked if he was going to court regularly and he said no.  He couldn’t remember the last time he had been to court.

“What do they do in the court hearings?,” he asked me.

“The court makes decisions about your life”, I answered.

“Then I should be there, right? I’m going to ask about that right away”.

Our meeting with James took place in November 2009.  In November, 2010, James was adopted by a new family that he chose with help of his Court Appointed Special Advocate and his case manager.  John Blend, founder of the Goshen Valley Boy's Ranch said, “this Christmas with the adoption final in November, James is doing wonderfully in his new family. As now the oldest child in the family, he is providing leadership and perspective to his much loved brothers, while building trust and understanding with his much loving parents. "

Last month, Ashley Rhodes-Courter, a former foster child for 9 years before being adopted as a teenager, spoke at our recent legal conference. In her closing message to the audience she said, "find one child stuck in the foster care system and help them move out.  Don’t give up."

What a great charge for all of us for 2011.

*James is not his real name, but his story is real. This teen was part of a statewide review called the Cold Case Project that reviewed 214 cases of children who appeared “stuck in foster care”.  This project was done by the Supreme Court of Georgia Committee on Justice for Children, in full partnership and transparency with the Division of Family and Children Services and the Office of the Child Advocate, and is currently paid for with Casey Family Program funds.

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Michelle Barclay is director of the Supreme Court of Georgia’s Committee on Justice for Children at the Administrative Office of the Courts.  Michelle and Andy Barclay founded and endowed the Barton Child Law and Policy Clinic in partnership with the Emory University School of Law.