Shutting Down the Pipeline from
Foster Care to Juvenile Justice

Amid sweeping changes in child welfare policy at the federal and state level, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas announced a motion aimed at slashing the number of foster youth who become entangled in the juvenile justice system, and ensuring supportive care for those who do touch both systems. The Board of Supervisors will hear the motion on March 20, 2018.

Such “dual status” or “crossover” youth, who fall under the jurisdiction of both the dependency and delinquency systems, are a particularly vulnerable population: a 2016 report by Cal State Los Angeles showed that three-quarters of dual status youth had a mental health diagnosis, and one-tenth had attempted suicide. Moreover, a 2011 study by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation found 4 in 5 such youth rely on public welfare benefits during early adulthood.

“Many of these youth have been victims of serious trauma, and getting caught up in the justice system only traumatizes them further,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “Half of dual status youth in the County are struggling in school or not attending regularly. Too many may end up languishing in juvenile hall due to insufficient community-based placements. We can and must do better.”

Los Angeles County has a history of addressing the particular needs of dual status youth. It was one of the first counties in California to let youth remain in both the dependency and delinquency courts to improve service delivery. In 2012 and 2013, the Board approved Supervisor Ridley-Thomas’ motions to improve prevention, intervention, funding for services, and data collection for this population.

The landscape has changed in the intervening years. Continuum of Care Reform in California is fundamentally altering the types of housing available for youth in the child welfare system, ending the concept of group homes as we know it. Meanwhile, the Families First Prevention Services Act will affect financing streams for federal child welfare. This is a critical time for Los Angeles County to lead on this issue and shut down the pipeline from the foster care system to the juvenile justice system.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas latest motion, coauthored by Supervisor Hilda Solis, charges the Office of Child Protection (OCP) with creating a countywide plan for dual status youth – and those at risk of becoming such youth – that is informed by an understanding of their particular needs and the policy changes underway.

The OCP is uniquely poised to lead this work. It will liaise with the Juvenile Court; convene affected youth and the County departments and community stakeholders serving them; identify funds to enhance services; and build on improvements already underway. OCP Executive Director Michael Nash, a retired presiding judge of the Juvenile Court and longtime advocate for dual status youth, said, “I view this motion as an excellent opportunity for the OCP to work with all the relevant stakeholders to move this effort forward.”

“There are few children more in need of our collective hard work and commitment than those who are been impacted by both the child welfare and criminal justice systems,” Probation Director Terry McDonald said. “We believe that by strengthening our partnership and resolve, we can improve the lives of young people who have experienced far too much trauma and often neglect.”

“Having worked in both Probation and child welfare, I can tell you from firsthand experience that these youth have experienced trauma and need all the support we can provide,” added Department of Children and Family Services Director Bobby Cagle. “I look forward to working with my colleagues across County departments to ensure these youth have caring adults in their lives to provide them with a safe and loving environment.”