The child welfare system is responsible for the safety, permanence, and well-being of the children it touches. We are charged with ensuring they are protected from abuse and neglect, stay in their homes whenever possible, have stability in their living situations, and preserve their past connections. On top of this, we must also meet children’s educational, physical, and mental health needs and increase the capacity of their families to meet their needs.
That’s a pretty tall order. So how can these goals be attained when the youth in question is also deemed delinquent in the juvenile
Over the past 30 years research has clearly and consistently identified childhood victimization and maltreatment as a risk factor for subsequent delinquency and violence.
According to the Child Welfare League of America’s Juvenile Justice Division (2002), abused or neglected children are more likely than other children to be arrested:
• As juveniles (27% vs. 17%),
• As adults (42% vs. 33%), and
• For commiting a violent crime
(18% vs. 14%).
CWLA’s research also shows that abused and neglected children tend to be younger at their first arrest, commit nearly twice as many offenses, and are arrested more frequently.
Placement and Delinquency
What do we know specifically about juvenile delinquency and the youth in foster care? Delinquency rates are about 47% greater for youth associated with at least one substantiated report of maltreatment (Ryan & Testa, 2005).
A recent study by Ryan, Hertz, Hernandez, and Marshall (2007) sought to determine whether there is a child welfare bias in juvenile justice processing. They found that children whose delinquency cases originated in foster care were less likely to receive probation than those children not in foster care. Results also indicated that the child welfare system itself is a significant reason African American youth are disproportionally represented in the juvenile justice system. Finally, the study found that youth coming from the child welfare
system are younger and more likely to be female.
This link to offending at a younger age is not good news, since other research found young offenders to be three times more likely to become serious violent
offenders (Bruns, et al., 2003).
These findings have significant implications for all of us connected with the child welfare system. Although not all maltreated children will commit a delinquent act, some will. Therefore we have a duty to understand the juvenile justice system and how it interacts with the child welfare system, and we need to know how to decrease the delinquent behavior of youth in foster care.
This issue of Practice Notes will provide you with some of the information you need to fulfill this responsibility.
Contents of this Issue