Youths involved in both the juvenile justice system (because of delinquent behavior) and the child welfare system (because of maltreatment ) are often referred to as “dual system” or “dually involved” youth. They share many of the same risk factors and other characteristics as youths involved in just one of these systems; however, this population tends to face a greater number of these risk factors, more complex risk factors, and fewer protective factors (Dierkhising et al., 2019; Herz, Ryan, and Bilchik, 2010; Kim et al., 2020; Lee and Villagrana, 2015).
There are several interventions that have been shown to prevent or reduce delinquency of youths involved in the juvenile justice system, and others that have been shown to prevent or reduce the impact of child maltreatment for youths in the child welfare system (Carey et al., 2010; Chaffin et al., 2004; Cohen et al., 2004; MacKenzie and Farrington, 2015; Prinz et al., 2009). However, interventions designed specifically for youths who have been involved in both systems are less common. In addition, dual-system youths are often unrecognized because of challenges in information sharing and cross-system collaboration (Herz, Ryan, and Bilchik, 2010; Vidal et al., 2019), making implementation of interventions challenging.
This literature review focuses on the intersection of the child welfare and the juvenile justice systems. Information is provided on the characteristics of both systems, predictors of crossover from one system to the other, characteristics of dual-status youth, progress toward and challenges in serving dual-status youth, and outcomes of interventions. There are several terms to describe this population that are used throughout this literature review. Crossover youth is a general category that describes youths who have experienced some form of maltreatment and who engage in delinquent behaviors, regardless of their involvement in the systems, whereas terms such as dual status, dual system, dual contact, dually involved, dually identified, dually adjudicated, and multisystem describe different ways youths interact with both the child welfare and the juvenile justice systems (a full discussion of these terms is provided below).
The juvenile justice and the child welfare systems serve two distinct purposes and are often run separately from each other (Nash and Bilchik, 2009). A general purpose of the child welfare system is to promote the well-being of children by ensuring safety, achieving permanency, and strengthening families to effectively care for their children (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2013). Common goals of the juvenile justice system are to hold youth accountable for wrongdoing (i.e., crime and delinquency), maintain public safety, support prosocial development, address treatment needs, and prevent further offending (National Research Council, 2013). While some states integrate child welfare and juvenile justice into one agency, most do not (JJGPS, n.d.).
In 2019, child protective services agencies in the United States reported receiving about 3.5 million referrals involving more than 7.0 million children. Among the 45 states that reported both screened-in and screened-out referrals, 54.5 percent were screened in, and 45.5 percent were screened out. Also in 2019, there were 656,000 victims of child abuse and neglect. The victimization rate for girls was 9.4 per 1,000 girls in the population, compared with 8.4 per 1,000 for boys (HHS, 2021).
In the most serious cases, children and youths involved in the child welfare system are removed from their homes. In 2019, more than 250,000 children entered foster care (HHS, 2020). The most common circumstance associated with the child’s removal from his or her home was neglect (63 percent), followed by parental drug abuse (34 percent), caretakers’ inability to cope (14 percent), physical abuse (13 percent), inadequate housing (10 percent), child behavior problems (8 percent), and parental incarceration (7 percent). Thirty-six percent of youths in foster care are ages 10 to 17, which is the same age range as most youths under the juvenile courts’ jurisdictions.
There are two primary types of offenses that result in involvement in the juvenile justice system: delinquency and status (Hockenberry and Puzzanchera, 2020; Institute of Medicine, 2001).
Status offenses are acts that are illegal only because the individuals involved are not adults. In 2018, U.S. juvenile courts petitioned and formally disposed an estimated 97,800 status offense cases. Of these status offense cases, the most serious offense for 62 percent of the cases that year was truancy, followed by 10 percent for running away, 9 percent for liquor law violations, 9 percent for ungovernability, 4 percent for curfew violations, and 6 percent were miscellaneous (Hockenberry and Puzzanchera, 2020). The number of petitioned status offense cases processed by juvenile courts decreased 49 percent between 2005 and 2018.
Delinquency offenses are offenses that may result in criminal prosecution if committed by an adult (Hockenberry and Puzzanchera, 2020; Institute of Medicine, 2001). In 2018, juvenile courts in the United States handled roughly 744,500 delinquency cases (Hockenberry and Puzzanchera, 2020). Thirty-one percent of these cases were for person offenses, 30 percent for property offenses, 25 percent for public order offenses, and 14 percent for drug offenses (Hockenberry and Puzzanchera, 2020). Seventy-three percent of the delinquency cases involved boys, while 27 percent involved girls. In addition, the number of delinquency cases processed by juvenile courts decreased 55 percent between 2005 and 2018.
Fifty-seven percent of cases referred to juvenile court were handled formally with the filing of a petition. Of these, 52 percent were adjudicated, and dispositions resulted in either 1) placements on probation (63 percent), 2) placements in an out-of-home placement (28 percent), or 3) some other sanction (9 percent). In addition, throughout this process, many youths are diverted from the system or transferred to adult court.
Similarities Between the Systems
Although they have distinct purposes, the operation of the child welfare and juvenile justice systems share the following similarities:
- As legally recognized institutions, both systems were developed to support and carry out the work of juvenile courts, and both were influenced by the concept of parens patriae (Altschuler et al., 2009).
- Primary responsibility of both systems rests with state or local government, though the federal government also plays a role in supporting states in the delivery of services through the funding of programs and legislative initiatives (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2013; Institute of Medicine, 2001).
- There are racial and ethnic disparities in both systems. Black and American Indian or Alaska Native youths are disproportionately involved in both systems at a national level (Knott and Giwa, 2012; Spinney et al., 2018; HHS, 2021). While national data show that Hispanic youths are disproportionately involved in most stages of the juvenile justice system (Hockenberry and Puzzanchera, 2020; Sickmund et al., 2019), they are underrepresented in the child welfare system nationally (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2016; Summers, 2015). However, Hispanic youths are overrepresented in the child welfare system in 14 states (Summers, 2015).
- Both systems serve a substantial proportion of children who need mental health services (Garland et al., 2001; Glisson and Green, 2006; Kim et al., 2020; Wasserman et al., 2010). However, many youths who need services do not receive them, and this disproportionately affects minority youth (Martinez, Gudiño, and Lau, 2013; Shelton, 2005; Spinney et al., 2016).
- Both systems serve children who often demonstrate high risks and high needs, and a large proportion of children and families are served by both systems, either concurrently or simultaneously (Herz and Dierkhising, 2019; Kolivoski, Barnett, and Abbott, 2015).
Crossover Categorizations and Definitions
A large percentage of youths are involved in both systems before reaching adulthood. Terms that apply to youths who are involved in both the juvenile justice system and the child welfare system include those who are dual status, dually involved, or crossover. These terms attempt to distinguish different ways in which this intersection can occur. The categories and definitions are as follows:
- Crossover youth generally refers to those who have experienced some form of abuse or neglect and who engage in delinquent behaviors, regardless of their involvement in the systems (Kolivoski, Barnett, and Abbott, 2015; Herz et al., 2019).
- Dual-system youth refers to crossover youths with prior or current involvement in both the juvenile justice and the child welfare systems (Herz et al., 2019). Dual status is another term for dual system (Grisso and Vincent, 2014; Onifade et al., 2014).
- Dual-contact youths are dual-system youths whose involvement in both systems is nonconcurrent, whereas dually involved youths are dual-system youths whose involvement in both systems is concurrent (Herz et al., 2019).
- Dually adjudicated youths are dual-system youths concurrently in the care of child welfare and under the formal supervision of the juvenile justice system (Herz et al., 2019). They are a subset of dually involved youth.
- Dually identified youths are currently involved with the juvenile justice system and have a history in the child welfare system, but no current involvement (Ricks, Geise, and Wood, 2019).
- Multisystem-involved youths are concurrently served in the child welfare, behavioral health, and/or juvenile justice systems (Vidal et al., 2019).
- Dual system pathways refer to the timepoints at which youths enter each system, which is another distinguishing feature of dual-system youth. A juvenile justice pathway is when youths have contact with the juvenile justice system before the child welfare system; a child welfare pathway is when youths have contact first with the child welfare system. The child welfare pathway is more common than the juvenile justice pathway, especially among dual-contact youths (Herz and Dierkhising, 2019). These pathways are sometimes further categorized by whether there is a historical child welfare case.
A screened-in referral is an allegation of child maltreatment that met the state’s standards for acceptance and became a report; a screened-out referral is an allegation of child maltreatment that did not meet the state’s standards for acceptance as a report. A report is a screened-in referral alleging child maltreatment; it receives a child protective services response in the form of an investigation response or an alternative response (HHS, 2021).
Victims are children for whom the state determined maltreatment to be substantiated or indicated and for whom disposition was assigned in a report.
For more information, see the Model Programs Guide literature review on Status Offenders.
For more information, see the Model Programs Guide literature review on Formal, Post-Adjudication Juvenile Probation Services.
For more information, see the Model Programs Guide literature review on Juvenile Residential Programs.
Parens patriae is the public policy power of the state to intervene against an abusive or negligent parent, legal guardian, or informal caretaker and to act as the parent of any child or individual who needs protection.
Herz and Dierkhising (2019) distinguish between historical and active system contact with child welfare among dual system youths.
Although there is a general lack of information available on both the prevalence and the characteristics of dual-system youth, this body of knowledge is growing, and information is increasingly available on their representation and their unique characteristics (Altschuler et al., 2009; Herz, Ryan, and Bilchik, 2010; Vidal et al., 2019; Herz and Dierkhising, 2019; Leone and Weinberg, 2012).
There have been several studies on prevalence, but it is generally difficult to compare one jurisdiction with another because samples and definitions often differ. Child maltreatment and child welfare system involvement are defined in many ways among youths in the juvenile justice system, as described above. Adding to this variation, the way researchers define juvenile justice samples can also vary. In the handful of examples described below, juvenile justice system youths are defined as arrested youths, youths referred to court, youths referred to court with their first petition, youths with certain types of cases, youths on probation, and youths committed to a secure placement.
- A 2019 study of jurisdictions in three states found that the prevalence of dual-system youths in the juvenile justice system was high: 45 percent of petitioned juveniles in Cook County, IL; 69 percent in Cuyahoga County, OH; and 70 percent in New York, NY (Herz et al., 2019; Herz and Dierkhising, 2019).
- A study of juvenile domestic violence cases in one family court in a southern state found that 32 percent of the youths had a prior dependency case (Ene–Korubo, 2011), which is an assertion by the state or a third party that the parents are unfit or unable to care for their child or children.
- A study of youths in the juvenile justice system in King County, WA, found that more than two thirds of youths who were referred to juvenile court had some form of involvement with the state child welfare agency (Halemba and Siegel, 2011).
- A study of youths with involvement in the Los Angeles (CA) Probation Department found that 83 percent had been referred to child protective services at least once for maltreatment; 38 percent had substantiated reports of maltreatment; 35 percent had open cases for services by the child protection system, either through foster care or in-home services; and 20 percent had been removed from their home because of abuse or neglect (McCroskey, Herz, and Putnam–Hornstein, 2018).
- Official records from the state of Florida demonstrated that, in the 2014–15 fiscal year, more than 3 percent of arrested youths and 6 percent of the youths with a residential commitment had been in an out-of-home placement because of child abuse or neglect at the time of arrest (Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, 2015).
Regardless of the specific definitions, the preponderance of research has found that crossover and dual-system youths differ from juvenile justice youths without child abuse/neglect or child welfare system experiences, in terms of demographics, risk levels, service needs, and service use. Dual-system youths and crossover youths are more likely to be Black (Dierkhising et al., 2019; McCroskey, Herz, and Putnam–Hornstein, 2018) or Native American (Halemba and Siegel, 2011), and more likely to be female (Dierkhising et al., 2019; Halemba and Siegel, 2011) than juvenile justice youths without child abuse/neglect or child welfare experiences. Further, Irvine and Canfield (2016) found that crossover youths were more likely to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, questioning, gender nonconforming, and transgender.
In addition, research suggests that dual-system youths are more likely to use additional service systems, such as shelter care and public assistance, compared with youths with experience in only one of those systems (Herz and Dierkhising, 2019). Several studies document the high levels of mental health needs in dual-system youths (Franz et al., 2019; Herz, Ryan, and Bilchik, 2010; Ricks, Geise, and Wood, 2019; Young et al., 2015), while other studies examine their higher levels of mental health service use (Chuang and Wells, 2010; Franz et al., 2019; Kim et al., 2020). Kim and colleagues (2020) conducted research in a large mid-Atlantic city and found that about 75 percent of dual-system youths received mental health services.
Some researchers have examined the difference between the different types of crossover youths. One study of three jurisdictions (Herz and Dierkhising, 2019) found that the demographic makeup of dual-contact youths differed from that of dually involved youths. The study also found that different pathways resulted in different outcomes. For example, in a sample of youths from Cook County, IL, 93 percent of dually involved youths with a child welfare pathway were Black, compared with dually involved youths with a juvenile justice pathway who were 69 percent Black. Dual-contact youths with a juvenile justice pathway were also more likely to have been charged with a person offense (63 percent) than dual-contact youths with a child welfare pathway (48 percent).
For more information, see the Model Programs Guide literature review on LGBTQ Youth in the Juvenile Justice System.
A body of literature concentrates on the link between experiencing maltreatment as a child and exhibiting later delinquent or criminal behavior. More than 40 years of research has demonstrated that a history of child abuse, neglect, and child welfare system involvement increases the likelihood of aggression, violence, delinquency, and justice system involvement (e.g., Bolton, Reich, and Gutierres, 1977; Goodkind et al., 2020; Ireland, Smith, and Thornberry, 2002; Jung et al., 2021; Milaniak and Widom, 2015; Swanston et al., 2003; Zingraff et al., 1993). A study by Bolton, Reich, and Gutierres (1977) was one of the first to use a prospective design to examine the link between early childhood maltreatment and later delinquency. The study comprised a sample of more than 5,000 children who had been reported for child maltreatment in Arizona and a comparison group of about 900 nonmaltreated siblings. The findings showed 16 percent of the maltreated group had juvenile court records for delinquency, compared with only 8 percent of the nonmaltreated siblings. Since then, there have been many studies examining the effect of child maltreatment (as measured by self-reported abuse/neglect or child welfare system involvement) on juvenile justice system outcomes, and they consistently find that a history of child maltreatment results in greater involvement in the juvenile justice system (see below for examples).
Ryan, Chiu, and Williams (2011) analyzed 10 years of data from Illinois to examine whether child welfare status was associated with the decision to file a formal petition in the juvenile court. The authors found that 1) child welfare status more than doubled the risk of a formal delinquency petition in juvenile court, and 2) youths coming to the juvenile justice system from the child welfare system were disproportionately likely to be Black, which made race a contributing factor to disproportionality in the juvenile justice system. Other studies examined the role of race in the relationship between child maltreatment and juvenile justice system involvement (e.g., Rodriguez, 2008; Rodriguez, Smith, and Zatz, 2009; Ryan et al., 2008).
Some studies analyze dependency cases specifically. A study of more than 20,000 juvenile cases in 15 counties in Arizona found that youths who had a dependency petition filed before a juvenile court referral were less likely to be diverted from the system and more likely to be detained and ultimately removed from the home at disposition (Rodriguez, 2008). A study by Ene–Korubo (2011) of juvenile domestic violence cases in one family court in a southern state found that having a prior dependency case was related to a harsher juvenile court case disposition. The author discussed the possibility that juveniles with prior court experience, such as dependency cases, received harsher dispositions because they were presumed to have already received many of the services that the court had to offer (e.g., counseling, early intervention programs, internal and external programs), and when those services fail “the court is left with no option but to hand down a harsh sentence on the juvenile as a last resort” (p. 32).
In addition to comparing maltreated youth with nonmaltreated youth, some researchers have examined the effect of dosage or the amount of abuse and neglect that youths experience and how that can affect juvenile court outcomes. A study of youths who participated in the Rochester (NY) Youth Development Study found that a higher number of different, substantiated incidents of abuse or maltreatment was related to higher rates of delinquency (Smith and Thornberry, 1995). Similarly, a study of more than 10,000 maltreated children and youths in Rhode Island found that youths who experienced recurring maltreatment and at least one incident of neglect were more likely to transition to juvenile justice than youths who did not experience recurring maltreatment or have at least one incident of neglect (Vidal et al., 2017). Another study found that having three or more substantiated reports of maltreatment increased the likelihood of a delinquency petition for girls in out-of-home placement, but not for boys (Ryan and Testa, 2005). However, other studies were unable to find a significant relationship between number of maltreatment reports and later delinquency (e.g., Zingraff et al., 1993).
Impact of Child Welfare System Involvement on Juvenile Justice System Involvement
The aforementioned studies examined child welfare system involvement and how it predicted juvenile justice system involvement. Several researchers have also attempted to examine the effect of child welfare experience as a predictor of juvenile justice system involvement, separate from experiencing child abuse and neglect. This research often examines how child welfare involvement moderates the relationship between maltreatment and delinquency. These researchers often attempt to isolate the effect of child welfare system involvement by comparing children with reports of abuse but who received no subsequent services or interventions with those who had similar reports and who did receive subsequent services and interventions, or by controlling for other variables.
For instance, a study using a sample of more than 150,000 children in California (Jonson–Reid and Barth, 2000) examined whether children who received child welfare services differed in their likelihood of being incarcerated as serious and violent youthful offenders, compared with children who were investigated as victims of abuse and neglect but who received no further child welfare intervention. They concluded that the three groups most at risk of juvenile justice system involvement were 1) individuals who received no services after an investigated child abuse or neglect report, 2) girls, and 3) victims of child neglect. They found that Hispanic and Black children who received foster care or in-home services after the index investigation had a lower risk of incarceration, compared with children whose cases were closed after investigation. They also found that among girls, the rate of incarceration was highest for those who experienced foster or group care placements.
Some studies have found that child welfare history predicted some but not other juvenile justice outcomes. For example, a study of youth in Los Angeles County, CA (Ryan et al., 2007), found that delinquency cases originating in child welfare were less likely to receive probation and more likely to be placed in a group home or with the California Youth Authority, even when controlling for age, race, gender, and offense characteristics. However, they did not find any child welfare effect on whether a case was dismissed.
The information above describes the relationship between child abuse and neglect and juvenile justice system involvement. However, not all children and youths who are abused/neglected or who become involved in the child welfare system engage in delinquency or become a part of the juvenile justice system. Some researchers have explored factors that may predict this relationship, including
- Gender (Cutuli et al., 2016; Vidal et al., 2017)
- Race (Johnson–Reid and Barth, 2000; Vidal et al., 2017)
- Age of the maltreatment (Goodkind et al., 2020; Thornberry et al., 2010)
- Number or recurrence of maltreatment (Ryan and Testa, 2005; Vidal et al., 2017)
- Maltreatment type (e.g., physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect) [Johnson–Reid and Barth, 2000; Vidal et al., 2017]
- Types of services received (e.g., in-home services, out-of-home placement, foster care) [Doyle, 2007; Johnson–Reid and Barth, 2000]
- Number of placements and placement stability (Cutuli et al., 2016; Ryan and Testa, 2005)
The first two in the list above are common factors that studies have examined when predicting juvenile justice system outcomes in other populations and in the general youth population. The final five factors are related to child welfare experience specifically. Additionally, Wilkinson and Lantos (2018) examined factors among youths who had been abused and neglected, which had protected them against engaging in delinquent behaviors. They found that being female, having a connection to school, having high-quality relationships with a mother or father figure, and having a connection to one’s neighborhood were all protective factors.
Types of Services Received
The types of services received in the child welfare system are particularly important to explore, to gather useful information about the influence of the system itself on maltreated youth, and to receive guidance for the development of services to prevent crossover to the juvenile justice system (Goodkind et al., 2013). Most of these studies examined the influence of out-of-home placements specifically. For example, one study (Goodkind et al., 2013) examined more than 17,000 individuals whose families received services through the child welfare system in Allegheny County, Pa. They found that youths with out-of-home placements and youths who had received mental health services were more likely to have spent time in a juvenile justice facility after their child welfare experience than youths without out-of-home placements and who had not received mental health services. Another study (Cutuli et al., 2016) examined children in foster care in Chicago, IL, Cleveland, OH; and New York, NY. The authors found that children who experienced congregate care were at the highest risk of crossover to juvenile justice.
In a study of more than 4,000 cases in Illinois (Ryan and Testa, 2005), the authors found that being placed in substitute care increased the likelihood of having a petition in the juvenile court among both maltreated boys and girls. Roughly 16 percent of the children placed into substitute care experienced at least one delinquency petition, compared with 7 percent of all maltreatment victims who were not removed from their families.
Another study (Ryan et al., 2008) looked specifically at youths in the child welfare system who were placed in group homes, compared with youths in the child welfare system who were placed in foster care settings, and found that youths placed in group homes were about 2.5 times as likely to be arrested as youths in foster care settings, even after controlling for child demographics, types of abuse, and child welfare placement information. The authors noted that two potential ways that group homes may increase the likelihood of delinquency are 1) peer contagion and 2) group home policies on contacting law enforcement.
Researchers have also examined the relationship between sibling separation and delinquency. A study by Novak and Benedini (2020) used data from the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being II and found that children who were separated from some but not all siblings reported significantly more offending behavior than youths who were never separated from their siblings. However, they also found that youths who were separated from all siblings did not differ in offending behavior from youths who were placed with all their siblings.
Several studies have posited that placement stability may be more of a factor predicting juvenile justice system involvement than service or placement type (Goodkind et al., 2013) and have found that having multiple placements increases the risk of juvenile justice system involvement (Runyan and Gould, 1985; Ryan and Testa, 2005). However, some researchers noted the importance of examining the direction of this relationship. One study found that many of the foster home placement changes were motivated by the foster parents’ inability to tolerate the child’s behavior. Thus, placement instability was an “an early marker of behavior that later was manifested as delinquency” (Runyan and Gould, 1985, p. 567) rather than as a cause of delinquency. Regardless of the causal direction, these multiple placement failures indicated a need for special services to prevent subsequent juvenile delinquency.
Some researchers have examined whether the influence of placement stability varies by specific demographic factors such as gender. For example, one study (Ryan and Testa, 2005) found that child welfare placement instability increased the risk of delinquency for male foster children, but not for female foster children.
Age at child welfare involvement is also a significant factor in predicting juvenile justice system involvement. Generally, research has demonstrated that youths who are involved in child welfare at older ages are more likely to have juvenile justice involvement than those involved with the welfare system only at very young ages. For example, a study of more than 10,000 maltreated children and youths in Rhode Island found that being older at the index investigation increased the likelihood of transitioning into the juvenile justice system (Vidal et al., 2017). Another study found that, among both maltreated boys and girls, delinquency petitions were more likely for youths who were older when the maltreatment occurred (Ryan and Testa, 2005). This does not mean, however, that children involved in child welfare at younger ages consistently have better outcomes. As found in one study (Cutuli et al., 2016), youths who were first placed as infants and youths who were older at first foster care placement were at increasing risk of juvenile justice system involvement.
Substitute care is a means of meeting a child’s daily caretaking and developmental needs outside of his or her home. It includes foster care and other types of residential situations.
Placement instability is calculated by summing the number of changes in the physical location of substitute care.
Research generally finds that dual-system youths have higher levels of recidivism, compared with youths involved with the juvenile justice system who do not have child welfare system experience (Cho and Lee, 2021; Hill, 2020; Lee and Villagrana, 2015; Wylie and Rufino, 2018). For example, an analysis of data from four Arizona counties found that youths with histories of court involvement on dependency matters were twice as likely to recidivate if referred on a delinquency offense than juveniles with no history of dependency court involvement (62 percent compared with 30 percent, respectively) [Halemba et al., 2004].
Some researchers attempt to isolate the effect of experiencing child abuse/neglect or involvement with the child welfare system to examine the effect of that experience on recidivism while controlling for other variables, such as age, race, or risk of reoffending (Hill, 2020; Wylie and Rufino, 2018). For example, a study of diverted youth in a midwestern city found that, even after controlling for demographic factors, risk scores, mental health types, and several different kinds of victimization, youths who have a reported incident of abuse/neglect recidivated sooner than youths without a reported incident (Wylie and Rufino, 2018).
Some of these studies have found that, among dual-status youths, risk factors for recidivism are similar to the risk factors in the general juvenile justice population, such as age at first arrest, behavioral health issues, substance misuse, and school truancies (Cho and Lee, 2021; Dierkhising et al., 2019; Herz, Ryan, and Bilchik, 2010). However, because dual-status youths often experience higher levels of these risk factors and lower levels of protective factors than those not involved in both systems, their rates of recidivism are higher (Lee and Villagrana, 2015).
Some researchers have also examined the relationship between dual-system status and adult criminal justice system involvement. One study of three large jurisdictions found that, in each of the three jurisdictions, dual-system youths were more likely to have contact with the adult criminal justice system (either through incarceration in state prison or at least one jail stay) than youths with contact with only one of those systems (Herz and Dierkhising, 2019).
Some researchers have found that race influences the link between child abuse and recidivism. One study of youth in juvenile justice residential programs found that previous child welfare placement increased the likelihood of recidivism for white and Hispanic youth but not for Black youth (Baglivio et al., 2016). This same study also examined whether the timing of child welfare involvement had differential effects on recidivism. In this examination of almost 13,000 youths, the researchers found that, while adverse childhood experiences failed to exert a direct effect on recidivism, it did have a signiﬁcant indirect effect on recidivism through child welfare involvement, which was itself associated with recidivism. They interpreted this finding to indicate that experiencing abuse did not cause reoffending; however, being a part of the child welfare system caused increased risks of reoffending.
Some studies have examined the challenges the systems face when trying to provide coordinated interventions to dual-system youths and their families. These include integrating and standardizing screening procedures; using tools to assess exposure to complex trauma; cross-systems collaboration and coordination; and providing access to effective family-related, evidence-based practices and clinical services that are specifically for use with this high-risk population (Vidal et al., 2019).
There has been little research, however, on how to best work with youths involved in both systems. A relatively small number of courts, probation departments, and child welfare agencies have instituted special court practices or comprehensive programs specifically for dual-jurisdiction matters (Halemba et al., 2004). These structural barriers negatively affect coordination and proper service provision. However, state and local governmental agencies are increasingly setting up systems to collect and track data on youths in both the juvenile justice and the child welfare systems (Altschuler et al., 2009; Herz and Dierkhising, 2019). The federal government collects and compiles these data from states to track national trends and changes over time.
Some states have made efforts to integrate and centralize the administration of child welfare and juvenile justice. As of 2016, seven states had centralized child welfare and juvenile justice administration through a single state-level department, and eight states had a general public welfare agency overseeing child welfare and juvenile corrections (often in separate divisions). However, 11 states had separate state-level organizations responsible for child welfare, juvenile corrections, and probation; and 25 states had one or more of the child welfare or juvenile probation responsibility organized locally (JJGPS, n.d.).
One study examined three dimensions of collaboration between the juvenile justice and child welfare systems in facilitating behavioral health service access for crossover youth. The three dimensions were 1) jurisdiction (i.e., agency accountability and responsibility for the youth), 2) shared information systems, and 3) overall connectivity. The researchers examined a sample of youths from the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being and found that having a single agency accountable for youth care increased odds of youths’ receiving both inpatient and outpatient behavioral health services; they also found that interagency data sharing increased odds of inpatient behavioral health services receipt (Chuang and Wells, 2010).
A recent report proposed methodologies in measuring national incidence rates of dual-system youth and in assessing the viability of implementing efforts to integrate and centralize the administration of child welfare and juvenile justice (Herz and Dierkhising, 2019). The researchers identified successes and challenges in information sharing and engaging in cross-system collaboration in jurisdictions in Illinois, Ohio, and New York. The top practices used to develop cross-system collaboration were 1) early identification of dual involvement, 2) improved information sharing across child welfare and juvenile justice systems, and 3) use of coordinated case supervision across juvenile justice and child welfare. Several positive outcomes were recorded, including fewer petitions at follow-up and increased youth involvement in prosocial activities. Additionally, one report (Herz and Dierkhising, 2019) produced the OJJDP Best Practices for Dual System Youth Rubric, which includes 11 essential categories of practice, which the authors found to be critical to cross-system collaboration.
Washington, D.C., is included as a state.
There has been limited evaluation research on programs or interventions specifically delivered to dual-status youth or on preventing the transition of maltreated youth to the juvenile justice system; however, some evaluations on specific programs have been done.
For example, Homebuilders is an in-home, intensive family preservation service and reunification program for families with children returning from or at risk of placement in foster care, group or residential treatment, psychiatric hospitals, or juvenile justice facilities. The intervention is designed to eliminate barriers to service while using research-based approaches to improve parental skills, parental capabilities, family interactions, children’s behavior, and family safety. For high-risk families involved with the child protective services system, the goal of the program is to remove the risk of harm rather than removing the child. Two evaluations of Homebuilders found that the intervention reduced the out-of-home placement rate and increased the total number of reunifications (Fraser et al., 1996; Kirk and Griffith, 2003). However, it did not have an effect on successful reunifications (i.e., whether the child returned to out-of-home placement).
Other researchers have begun examining interventions designed to improve outcomes specifically among crossover youths. The Crossover Youth Practice Model (CYPM) aims to strengthen collaborations between and among child welfare and juvenile justice system professionals and partners to prevent or reduce youths’ involvement in the juvenile justice system or related systems of care. A primary approach of the CYPM is to provide early, coordinated, and individualized services. A quasi-experimental study of CYPM implementation with youths in a large urban county in a midwestern state found that youths who participated in the intervention showed a statistically significant reduction in recidivism rates, compared with youths in the comparison groups who received “services as usual” (Haight et al., 2016). This study used a posttest-only design and statistical controls for location, time, race, gender, offense severity, socioeconomic status, and other factors.
Another study of the CYPM in an urban county in a midwestern state examined recidivism and other outcomes. This study found no effect from the intervention in terms of arrests after 9 and 18 months. However, the study did find that youths who participated in the intervention were more likely to have their delinquency and dependency cases dismissed or diverted and were more likely to be living at home than the comparison group (Wright, Spohn, and Campagna, 2020).
Research is more robust in examining programs that seek to achieve permanency among families involved in the child welfare system or to mollify the consequences of child maltreatment among system-involved youths such as drug use, sexualized behaviors, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other internalizing problems.
Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF–CBT) is a treatment intervention designed to help children and their parents overcome the negative effects of traumatic life events. Three studies have examined the effect of TF–CBT on children who experienced sexual abuse. These researchers found that children in the TF–CBT treatment group had fewer PTSD and depressive and problematic behaviors, compared with the comparison groups (Cohen et al., 2004; Cohen and Mannarino, 1996; Deblinger, Lippman, and Steer, 1996).
Another program, Family Drug Treatment Court, is designed for parents who have substance misuse allegations and whose families are involved in the child welfare system. A quasi-experimental study of substance-using parents in Snohomish County, WA, found that participants were more likely to have their children returned, more likely to experience a permanency-planning outcome, and less likely to have their parental rights terminated (van Wormer and Hsieh, 2016). Additionally, children of program participants spent less time in the child welfare system.
The Jackson County (OR) Community Family Court is a program for parents with admitted substance misuse allegations whose children are wards of the state and in the custody of the Department of Human Services. The children of parents who participated in the program spent less time in foster care and were more likely to be reunited with a parent than children whose parents did not participate (Carey et al., 2010).
Research has consistently shown that youths who are maltreated are more likely than nonmaltreated youths to have contact with the juvenile justice system (Bolton, 1977; Jung et al., 2021; Maxfield and Widom, 1996; Smith and Thornberry, 1995; Zingraff et al., 1993). Once part of the juvenile justice system, these crossover and dual-system youths generally differ in terms of demographics and have greater risk factors and needs than youths involved in just one system (child welfare or juvenile justice).
There are several interventions that have been demonstrated as effective in preventing and reducing the impact of child abuse and neglect such as the Homebuilders program, TF–CBT, and family drug court programs. However, less research has been done on programming to improve outcomes for dual-status youths once they are part of the juvenile justice system.
Researchers have begun to gather best practices among systems trying to better serve this high-risk population. They recommend 1) early identification of dual involvement, 2) improved information sharing across child welfare and juvenile justice systems, and 3) use of coordinated case supervision across juvenile justice and child welfare (Herz and Dierkhising, 2019). For instance, the Crossover Youth Practice Model, which aims to strengthen collaborations between child welfare and juvenile justice system professionals, is one intervention that has demonstrated promise with this group in reducing recidivism.
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Suggested Reference: Development Services Group, Inc. 2021. Intersection of Juvenile Justice and Child Welfare Systems. Literature review. Washington, DC: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. https://ojjdp.ojp.gov/model-programs-guide/literature-reviews/Intersection-Juvenile-Justice-Child-Welfare-Systems
Prepared by Development Services Group, Inc., under Contract Number: 47QRAA20D002V.
Last Update: May 2021