Resiliency and Crossover: A Framework for Case Conceptualization

Shawn Marsh

Shawn C. Marsh (pictured)
PhD, Director, Juvenile and Family Law Department, NCJFCJ

Jessica Pearce
Projects Coordinator, Juvenile and Family Law Department, NCJFCJ

Summary: The judicial system has traditionally focused on reducing risk. We must also work to cultivate protective factors by developing a process for identifying enhancing and these attributes.


Michelle is 15 years old and has been involved in the justice system since she was removed from her mother’s custody at age 6. She is currently on probation for an incident involving drinking and joy riding that resulted in an accident.

Michelle lives with her grandmother whom she is very close to—her father is deceased and her mother is an addict. She has two older siblings, a 21- year-old brother and a 19-year-old sister. Her sister is living on her own, going to a community college and working. Her brother is incarcerated for drug-related charges. There is a report on record with child protective services that Michelle was molested by her brother about a year ago.

Michelle is interested in dance. Until the seventh grade, she did well in school and was well-liked. She is now in the ninth grade; she has been suspended twice for possession of alcohol on school grounds and her grades have become erratic. Michelle is back in court after being caught smoking marijuana and violating her probation.

Cases like Michelle’s that cross over the various components of our justice system are drawing more attention. Although typically discussed in terms of youth that are dually adjudicated as dependent and delinquent, crossover can also refer to youth and families who move among or are simultaneously involved in multiple systems, including juvenile, family, civil and criminal courts. Further, the term crossover has increasingly been used to describe not only process issues, but also those persistent challenges frequently faced by youth and families throughout the system, such as substance abuse, mental health, trauma and family conflict. Resiliency theory provides us with a framework to conceptualize crossover issues, with an emphasis on a broader life-course perspective that is focused on developing linkages over time and understanding common themes in the experiences of youth and families who appear frequently in court.

Resiliency is defined as the capacity to thrive in the face of adversity. Resiliency theory attempts to explain resiliency in terms of risk and protection across ecological domains—including individual, family, peers, school and community—while recognizing that risk and protective factors change with age and with developmental stage. In most cases, resiliency can be supported by reducing risk and enhancing protection across as many ecological domains as possible.

The judicial system has traditionally focused on reducing risk and in many cases we can and do successfully decrease or eliminate at least one or more of the risk factors in a youth’s life. However, the reduction or elimination of risk is not the same as protection, and it alone does not promote resiliency. We must also work to cultivate protective factors, such as a strong relationship with a mentor, or an innate love of learning, by developing a process for identifying and enhancing these attributes.[1]

As a system then, how do we reduce risk factors and promote protective factors at each level of ecology? Practically speaking, there are opportunities for “meaningful practice” in each domain of a youth’s life. In the case of Michelle, what risk factors need to be addressed and what protective factors can be amplified? How can Michelle and her family be involved in case planning? What can we do to encourage Michelle to participate in pro-social activities? How can we ensure that Michelle’s community is safe and how can we improve already existing bonds to her community? Answering these questions, for Michelle and for others like her, will help break the cycle of system involvement and lead to stronger individuals, families and communities.

 [1] The Search Institute —which has developed a series of 40 Development Assets for children and adolescents—is an excellent resource for more information on protective factors.

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