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Meaningful Advocacy for the Dually Involved Youth

Cynthia ChauvinCynthia Chauvin
Director, CASA Jefferson, Jefferson Parish Juvenile Court, Harvey, LA

Summary: Children in foster care who cross over into the delinquent population almost immediately forfeit their victim status. As advocates for child victims, CASA/GAL volunteers play a critical role in maintaining the child victim’s status.

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The long-term effects of child abuse and maltreatment include higher rates of both juvenile and adult incarceration, exposure to and abuse of illegal substances and the perpetuation of abuse and neglect. A National Institute of Justice study found that abused and neglected children are 11 times more likely to be arrested for criminal behavior as juveniles, 2.7 times more likely to be arrested for violent and criminal behavior as an adult, and 3.1 times more likely to be arrested for one of many forms of violent crime as juveniles or adults (English, Widom, & Brandford, 2004). Abused and neglected children are more likely to smoke cigarettes, abuse alcohol or take illicit drugs during their lifetime (Dube et al., 2001). According to a report from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, as many as two-thirds of people in drug treatment programs reported being abused as children (Swan, 1998). Unfortunately, adults who were abused often mimic similar abusive behaviors. It is estimated approximately one-third of abused and neglected children will eventually victimize their own children (Prevent Child Abuse New York, 2003).

It is evident that the residual effects of abuse and maltreatment continue to plague communities across the country. As we know, volunteering as a CASA/GAL volunteer affords community members an opportunity to improve the lives of our most vulnerable children. This article will focus on victims of abuse and neglect that cross over into the juvenile delinquency system. As advocates for child victims, CASA/GAL volunteers play a critical role in maintaining the child victim’s status. Understanding the juvenile delinquency process provides the volunteer with the necessary support and supervision needed to take on this type of specialized case. By working with this high-risk population of foster youth and developing rapport-building skills, the volunteer’s success with the youth will increase.

Over five years ago, my local program began noticing data trends relative to volunteer retention. Advocates working with older youth who became dually involved in child abuse and delinquent proceedings were often on the verge of resigning as advocates or electing to not take a new case once their dually involved case closed. Simultaneously, the program identified these adolescents as high-risk youth due to their long-term foster care goal. It was at this time that our program drafted an additional chapter of pre-service training for our volunteers and developed curriculum for several specific in-service training sessions.

The most effective training for volunteers who work with dually involved youth compares the similarities of child abuse victims to those of juvenile delinquents. Both are in need of permanency, safety and stability. Quite often youth in both groups need therapy, medication and educational supports. Home environments may be similar and a “survival of the fittest” mentality may be present. It is no surprise that this population of youth is quite detached and remains skeptical of caring adults. By modeling rapport- building techniques, volunteers are better equipped to work with this population of foster youth. Furthermore, by actively involving the youth in discussions about their future and truly listening to their needs and wants, the youth often is more respected and becomes more invested in the process.

Unfortunately, society takes a dim view of children who perpetrate crimes compared to children who are victims of crimes. Children in foster care who cross over into the delinquent population almost immediately forfeit their victim status. This unfortunate occurrence creates a change in perception of that youth indefinitely. As you can imagine, these adolescents are more likely to have numerous placement changes as well as runaway behaviors. Quite often, adults involved in these cases become discouraged and apathetic. As advocates for foster children, we never lose sight of the child’s victimization. The volunteer does not agree with or condone the adolescent’s behavior or criminal activity; however, it is not within the scope of the volunteer’s role to judge the adolescent. It is important that the volunteer remain objective and clear about his role in the lives of these children. First and foremost, CASA/GAL volunteers are appointed to advocate the child’s best interest. Advocates who work with dually involved foster youth are quite often the lone person speaking on behalf of the child and must vigilantly advocate for the child victim.

Many juvenile delinquents, as well as adult offenders, share painful abusive childhoods although their histories and incidents have never before been addressed through the child welfare system. Andrea Khoury, ABA Child Law Practice author notes that “Many delinquency cases have dependency overtones due to gross problems in the adolescent’s home life.” If the teen’s dependency issues are not addressed, then he or she will likely continue down the delinquency road and never receive the services needed to live a law-abiding and productive life.

It is paramount that children—regardless of their system of origination—need safety, permanency, continuity and the trust of an adult. When these factors do not exist, lifelong challenges affect child victims. CASA/GAL volunteers uniquely involve themselves during a child and family’s time of crisis. Given the necessary skills, these volunteers embark upon challenging yet meaningful work. To learn more about CASA Jefferson’s work with dually involved youth you can listen to my National CASA podcast at http://casaforchildren.libsyn.com/index.php?post_id=538045# or contact the program directly. 

 

References

Dube, S. R., Anda, R. F., Felitti, V. J., Chapman, D., Williamson, D. F., & Giles, W. H. (2001). Childhood abuse, household dysfunction and the risk of attempted suicide throughout the life span: Findings from the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study. Journal of the American Medical Association, 286, 3089-3096.  

English, D. J., Widom, C. S., & Brandford, C. (2004). Another look at the effects of child abuse. NIJ journal, 251, 23-24.

Khoury, Andrea, “The Delinquency Factor in Permanency Planning for Adolescents,” 23(6) ABA Child Law Practice 85 (August 2004).

Prevent Child Abuse New York. (2003). The costs of child abuse and the urgent need for prevention. Retrieved April 27, 2006, from http://pca-ny.org/pdf/cancost.pdf

Swan, N. (1998). Exploring the role of child abuse on later drug abuse: Researchers face broad gaps in information. NIDA Notes, 13(2). Retrieved April 27, 2006, from the National Institute on Drug Abuse website: www.nida.nih.gov/NIDA_Notes/NNVol13N2/exploring.html

 

The US Department of Justice has supported CASA advocacy since 1985 through its Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
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