National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges Cross-Over Committee

 Judge EscherJudge Patricia Escher (pictured)
Presiding Juvenile Court Judge, Pima County Juvenile Court Center
Tucson, AZ

Judge Amy Davenport, Administrative Judge
Superior Court of Vermont
Member, NCJFCJ Board of Trustees

Judge Nan Waller
Circuit Court Judge, Multnomah County Courthouse, Portland, OR

The three authors serve on the NCJFCJ Cross-Over Committee.

Summary: Achieving successful outcomes for crossover youth relies on effective collaboration both inside and outside the court. The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges has made crossover youth a priority by creating a cross-departmental committee to develop practice recommendations for judges hearing family and juvenile cases.

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Every day in juvenile and family courts across the country, judges will hear cases of youth who are involved with the court system in multiple ways. We refer to these individuals as crossover youth.

Mary is 16 years old, and she has been a runaway for four months. Police arrested her in a stolen car with two adult males, high on alcohol and cocaine. She is three months’ pregnant.

John is 11. He has severe ADHD and receives special education services. His mother has let his Medicaid eligibility lapse, and he often comes to school without his medication and engages in disruptive behavior. His parents are involved in a high-conflict divorce. They have a history of domestic violence. John has just been arrested for kicking his teacher during a classroom tantrum.

These are complex youth with complex families. They have complex problems, requiring a comprehensive and coordinated response from a variety of child-serving agencies— including child welfare, behavioral health, juvenile probation and schools. And what makes this even more complex is that these youth may enter the court system through many doors. They may be charged with a status offense or a delinquency offense. They may be the subject of a dependency proceeding or a custody battle. Or they may be involved in several different proceedings at the same time.

Achieving successful outcomes for these youth relies on effective collaboration both inside and outside the court. Yet in many jurisdictions, no one court or judge has jurisdiction over all proceedings involving these youth. There may be inconsistent or contradictory orders, duplicated services, or a failure to recognize and deal with the underlying problems.

The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges has made crossover youth a priority by creating a cross-departmental committee to develop practice recommendations for judges hearing family and juvenile cases. Our highest priority is to promote the creation of judicially led collaborations of child-serving agencies to implement such practices both inside the courtroom and through cross-system practice.

In 2010, in partnership with the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform at Georgetown University, NCJFCJ will hold a Cross-Over Youth Mini-Conference, hosting court teams from across the country. The mini-conference will focus on successful practice model interventions and help courts to develop collaborative, problem-solving plans to effectively deal with these youth and their families.

But before such collaborations are created and fully effective, there are steps that judges in most courts can take to better serve this population. Read examples from our colleagues across the country.

Ten Easy Steps: Even if you’re not in a position to take major steps toward a more integrated process, following are specific actions almost any judge can take to improve the process—and the outcomes for youth involved in both systems.

1. Identify (or have the parties identify) all related cases: delinquency, dependency, dissolution, paternity, orders of protection, status offenses, etc. Where possible and appropriate to the circumstances of the case, consolidate all cases before the appropriate judge (e.g., consolidate custody cases before the dependency judge). At a minimum, communicate with all other judges to avoid inconsistent or duplicative orders.

2. Where youth are dually adjudicated, have probation officers and child welfare workers attend all reviews and other substantive hearings in both cases.

3. Encourage youth to attend all hearings and invite their participation. If they don’t want to attend, ask them to write letters or participate by phone.

4. Make identification of family, kin and anyone else having a connection with the child an ongoing priority throughout the case. Identify, develop and agree upon criteria for placement, visits, transportation, attendance at school/ other youth functions, phone contact, etc., and promote a variety of levels of involvement by anyone who wants to support the youth (and parents).

5. Establish a process for joint assessment, case planning and service provision, including probation, child welfare, behavioral health providers and family (e.g., child and family teams).

6. Train group home staff on alternatives to arrest for difficult behaviors and revise policies to eliminate preference for calling law enforcement first.

7. Offer to train schools on accountability conferencing or similar processes as alternatives to suspension/expulsion. Work with schools to develop in-school suspension programs or behavior contracts.

8. Initiate peer-to-peer multi-system training for probation, child welfare and behavioral health line staff.

9. Develop a juvenile justice training that can be offered as in-service training to teachers and school administrators.

10. Develop (and utilize in every case) standard orders directing schools to release educational information to probation and child welfare workers, or require parents to sign appropriate releases in a form acceptable to the schools.




 

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