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Crossover Children Need CASA Volunteers

Jeanne Meurer, Lead Judge, Travis County’s Model Delinquency Court, Austin, TX
John Hathaway, Associate Judge, Travis County Juvenile Court and District Court, Austin, TX

Summary: We see in court everyday that CASA is an invaluable partner in reducing upheavals and moving children more quickly to safe, permanent homes. We look forward to the day when every abused and neglected child, including all crossover youth, will have the life changing benefit of a CASA volunteer. 

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Together the two of us have collectively worked with children in the dependency and delinquency court systems for nearly fifty years. Because CASA volunteers are critical in fully serving these children, we urge CASA programs to advocate whenever possible for a child of extremely high needsthe crossover child.

If you are not familiar with this child, please meet Joe. After twelve referrals for abuse or neglect, most involving drugs or family violence, Child Protective Services removed Joe from his mother’s home in 2003 when he was six years old. Over the next five years, Joe received multiple mental health diagnoses, was prescribed an array of psychotropic medications, and experienced twenty disruptive moves. In September 2008, in a rage he hit a teacher and entered the delinquency court system with a felony charge of assault public servant. Four more moves and five stays in juvenile detention later, it is now February 2010, and Joe is thirteen.

Although his name is not, Joe’s story is true. He is one of the many children we call “crossover” youth, those who crossover from either the dependency or delinquency systems to the other. Sometimes crossover children go by other names, for example, cross system, dual jurisdiction, dually adjudicated, and dually involved. It is important to emphasize that these children may crossover by way of several paths. Most, however, become a crossover child as did Joe, moving from the dependency system into delinquency. And they have histories and needs similar to Joe’s.

Crossover children have lived their parents’ struggles. In one study in Arizona, 55% of parents were incarcerated, 13% had been involved in drug trafficking, 70% had a history of family violence, 78% had drug or alcohol problems, and 31% emotional or mental health issues.[1] That same study documented that the youth themselves dealt with mental health and substance abuse issues: 61% had emotional or mental health issues and were prescribed psychotropic medications; 27% had suicidal ideations or attempts; and 80% had substance abuse issues. Not surprisingly, facing all these life challenges, crossover youth moved frequently between multiple placements, 10.3 times on average in the Arizona study.

Those of us who have spent years on dependency benches have labored to maintain placements and avoid the trauma caused by repeated changes of homes and schools and friends. We see in court everyday that CASA is an invaluable partner in reducing these upheavals and moving children more quickly to safe, permanent homes. Studies support our personal experiences: children with a CASA volunteer receive more services, as do their families; are substantially less likely to spend time in long-term foster care; and are less likely to reenter the child welfare system.[2]

However, currently not all crossover youth are able to have a CASA volunteer. As stated earlier, while the traditional path to crossover status is from dependency to delinquency, it is not the only path. Crossover youth are also those in delinquency court, with no current dependency involvement, who have (1) a previously closed dependency case, (2) a history of abuse or neglect with no earlier dependency action, or (3) the very real possibility of a dependency suit because family will not accept them or provide safety following a delinquency placement.[3] These crossover children, although not technically in the dependency system, still have the same troubled family histories, significant mental health and substance abuse issues, and damaging multiple placements dependency-to-delinquency children. But, today they will navigate those obstacles without the benefit of a CASA volunteer.

We understand that the mission of the National CASA Association, together with its state and local programs, is to speak for the best interests of children who come before the court because of abuse and neglect. We know that two-thirds of children involved in the dependency system still need CASA advocacy. But, we also look forward to the day when every abused and neglected child, including all crossover youth, will have the life changing benefit of a CASA volunteer. 



[1]Arizona Dual Jurisdiction Study Final Report,” November 30, 2004, by Gregory J. Halemba, Gene Siegel, Rachael D. Lord, and Susanna Zawacki.

[2] www.casaforchildren.org/site/c.mtJSJ7MPIsE/b.5332511/k.7D2A/Evidence_of_Effectiveness.htm, National CASA website.

[3] “Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice: Two Sides of the Same Coin,” by Shay Bilchik and Judge Michael Nash, Juvenile and Family Justice Today, Fall 2008.

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