The Leadership Role of the Judge in Coordinating the Juvenile Justice and Child Welfare System to Achieve Effective Outcomes

Judge GrayJudge Ernestine Gray
Chief Judge, Orleans Parish Juvenile Court, New Orleans, LA
President, National CASA Association Board of Trustees

Summary: Now is the time for juvenile court judges, as a part of their leadership, to call attention to the special needs of crossover youth and use their collaboration skills to bring systems together to more effectively manage these cases.


Both the Resource Guidelines: Improving Court Practice in Child Abuse and Neglect Cases and the Juvenile Delinquency Guidelines: Improving Court Practice in Juvenile Delinquency Cases speak to the leadership role of the juvenile court judge. This role is critically important when working with crossover dual-jurisdiction youth. Other terms used to refer to this population include dual jacket, dual involvement, dual supervision, dual system, dual wards and joint involvement (See “When Systems Collide: Improving Court Practices and Programs in Dual Jurisdiction Cases,” Technical Assistance to the Juvenile Court, Special Project Bulletin, NCJJ OJJDP, June 2004). These are youth who have cases in both the dependency and delinquency court simultaneously. Perhaps the more accurate term is multi-problem or high-needs youth, because they usually present with a series of issues involving several systems. Presenting issues might include dependency, delinquency, truancy, drugs, homelessness and diagnosed or undiagnosed behavioral health needs.

A strong relationship between child maltreatment, delinquency and violence has been established by the research. The literature is replete with well designed longitudinal and prospective studies that confirm the impact of child abuse or neglect on a host of behavior problems; document the higher risks of future criminality and violence posed by youth with histories of childhood maltreatment; and state the need for effective prevention and early intervention efforts that precede court involvement. (J. Wiig, C. S. Widom, and J.A. Tuell, Understanding Child Maltreatment & Delinquency: From Research to Effective Program, Practice and Systemic Solutions, 2003, Child Welfare League of America)

While it is difficult to know exactly how many crossover youth there are in the nation, there is a sense that it is not a small number, that the number is increasing, and that their needs are more severe. These cases present special challenges for the various systems because of their complexity: they drain scarce resources, lead to duplication of case management and decrease the effectiveness of services provided.

To date, the systems have not generally worked well for the benefit of the crossover youth. Now is the time for juvenile court judges, as part of their leadership, to call attention to the special needs of crossover youth and use their collaboration skills to bring the various systems together to more effectively manage these cases. As I have considered this issue, there are three recommendations that I would make as critical to success in intervening with this population: (1) integrated one family–one judge case assignment; (2) cross-system data collection and information sharing; and (3) engaging at least one consistent, caring adult for each youth.

This final point is where CASA/GAL volunteers come in. For children and youth in foster care, CASA volunteers serve the crucial role of providing stability in an ever-changing landscape. Social workers change, lawyers change, teachers change, foster parents change and judges change. But their CASA volunteer is always there. That is what many foster youth say when asked what it means to have a CASA/GAL volunteer.

Listed below are some successful strategies that have been implemented by several jurisdictions working with crossover youth.

  • Project Confirm: New York City
  • Setting Specific Assessment, Contact and Supervision Standards for Dual System Youth: The Family Court of Jefferson County, AL
  • A One Stop Placement Assessment Center: Sacramento, CA
  • A Dedicated Dual Jurisdiction Docket: The Family Court of Jefferson County, AL
  • Consolidating Dependency and Delinquency Hearings: The Cochise County Juvenile Court, AZ
  • Requiring Caseworkers and Probation Officers to Attend Hearings Together: The Allegheny County Juvenile Court, PA
  • Requiring Joint Court Reports: The Coconino County Juvenile Court, AZ
  • Joint Case Planning and Specialized Units: The Maricopa County Juvenile Court, AZ, and the Ramsey County Juvenile Court, MN
  • Child Protective Services Liaisons: Tarrant Bexar Counties, Texas and Denver County, CO



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