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Addressing the Needs of Multi-System Youth: Strengthening the Connection between Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice

Published Mar 1, 2012, Center for Juvenile Justice Reform at Georgetown University and Robert F. Kennedy Children’s Action Corps

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It has been known for quite some time that children involved in the child welfare system are at risk of “crossing over” to the juvenile justice system and, inversely, that many juvenile justice–involved youth later become involved in the child welfare system. These youth are commonly referred to as crossover youth. The accumulation of research on this population has given us greater understanding of their characteristics, of the pathway they took to become crossover youth, and of the practices professionals can employ to improve their outcomes. Despite these advances in our knowledge, jurisdictions around the United States, and arguably around the world, continue to face challenges in adequately meeting the needs of this difficult-to-serve population. As a result, several reform efforts have been developed to guide jurisdictions in their efforts to improve the way they serve crossover youth.

The purpose of this paper is to provide communities with a consolidated framework for serving crossover youth that incorporates the most up-to-date research, lessons from ongoing reform efforts, and an innovative collaborative management structure. To accomplish this task, the paper begins with a summary of the research on crossover youth, including their characteristics and system experiences. The paper then explores the systemic factors that contribute to ineffective service delivery for this population, followed by a review of two major crossover youth reform initiatives in the United States—the Systems Integration Initiative (SII) and the Crossover Youth Practice Model (CYPM). The final section presents the next frontier of this work by providing a comprehensive array of the best practices needed to improve outcomes for this population and describing Results-Based Accountability™ (RBA), an innovative management structure that can be used to align the work of a variety of stakeholders around a common, community-wide effort for crossover youth.

This introduction serves to briefly orient the reader to what we know about crossover youth, the challenges in serving this population, the current reform efforts underway, and the Results-Based Accountability™ framework. These topics are elaborated upon further in subsequent sections. The stage is then set for the presentation of a new frontier of this work—a more cohesive and robust framework regarding how systems can undertake reforms to improve the lives of crossover youth.

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Models for Change is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, website operated by Justice Policy Institute.