On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a motion that seeks to prevent the county’s foster youth from entering the juvenile justice system. And, for the vulnerable population of kids who do become “crossover” or “dual status” youth, involved in both the foster care and juvenile justice systems, the motion aims to improve support systems, and ultimately, outcomes.
“Preventing youth in the dependency system from being arrested or
having contact with the Probation Department is imperative,” the motion reads.
(A WitnessLA story published last week took an in-depth look at the ambitious motion, which was authored by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Hilda Solis.)
Four out of five youth in LA County’s probation camps have received at least one referral to the child welfare system for suspected maltreatment, according to a report from Cal State LA and the University of Southern California’s Children’s Data Network, as well as USC’s Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work. Nearly two-fifths of youth had a substantiated report of maltreatment, 35 percent had open cases in the child welfare system, and 20 percent had been removed from their homes because of abuse or neglect.
Another Children’s Data Network/CSULA report (this one in collaboration with Advancement Project, and the Children’s Defense Fund–California) showed that 92 percent of probation-involved kids in the study had a mental health diagnosis.
Research has also revealed that half of the crossover youth studied fell into extreme poverty in their young adult years, as compared to only 25 percent of those kids in juvenile probation alone, or 33 percent of LA youth who were in foster care alone.
“Ensuring this population receives coordinated, effective services is important to breaking the cycle of negative outcomes,” the motion reads. According to Ridley-Thomas and Solis, while the county has been at the forefront of addressing “dual status youth issues” in the past, more recently, “countywide cross-system collaboration has waned and challenges have emerged.” According to the motion, the county must also address the fact that “access to needed support services for dual status youth remains limited.”
The motion instructs the Director of the Office of Child Protection (OCP)—namely Michael Nash, the former supervising judge of LA’s Juvenile Court—in collaboration with all the other relevant county agencies—among them the Juvenile Courts, the Department of Children and Family Services, the Probation Department, the Department of Mental Health, Office of Diversion and Reentry, County Counsel, the Public Defender’s office, the District Attorney, the LA County Office of Education, Office of Immigrant Affairs, and so on, plus LA’s youth advocates—to report back to the board in writing in six months with a written countywide plan to help crossover youth.
(Read the supervisors’ full to-do list in WLA’s story from last week.)
Jacquelyn McCroskey, a professor at USC School of Social Work and co-director of the Children’s Data Network, and one of the authors of the USC/CSULA reports urged the supervisors to approve the motion.
“My first post-VA job was a probation officer as-needed at Central Juvenile Hall,” said McCroskey. “And I met a number of children who had dual connections to these systems, and they left a very deep impression on me.” While the USC professor, who also serves on the county’s Commission for Children and Families, said that she “admired the work the county has done in this area over the years,” she believes “that we’re poised to go further.”
Julio Marcial, the Director of Youth Justice at the Liberty Hill Foundation, told the story of a youth named DeAngelo, failed by both county systems:
“By the time DeAngelo was 14, he had been in more than a dozen foster homes, after being removed [from his home] at the age of three. He had run away and lived on the streets for months, and he had been diagnosed with PTSD.
Perhaps not surprisingly, DeAngelo repeatedly landed in juvenile detention for a variety of reasons. But for most of his young life, the people responsible for helping him in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems hardly spoke to one another, much less coordinated services because of the long-standing gulf between the two systems. DeAngelo, now 24, and currently incarcerated, could be a poster child for kids known as dual-status youth.
It’s hard to see how many kids have been entangled in both the juvenile justice and child welfare systems, partly because of the historical bureaucratic divides between the two systems. But the time has come to acknowledge our failures and demonstrate the courage to try something new. The same courage we demand of young people like DeAngelo who need a second chance… Foster youth should not be unfairly subjected to incarceration for typical teen misbehavior that would not trigger such dire consequences for youth living at home with their parents.”
Other Youth Who Fell Through the Cracks
Speaking before the supervisors in favor of the motion, former crossover kids also told stories about how LA County’s systems failed them.
“Many youth act out, not because they want to be a delinquent,” a 24-year-old named Xavier said. “Rather, they are screaming out for help due to a trauma.”
Xavier said that he ran away from foster care because he wasn’t “heard” when he reported that he had been molested. But instead of receiving help, he was treated like a “delinquent” by the county. “I had spoken up about being molested to a counselor, yet it wasn’t taken to the police,” Xavier said. “I ran away. And I was looked at as a delinquent because of my actions.” The motion before the supervisors, Xavier said, would ensure that “resources for healing” would be more readily available for kids who Xavier says are often overlooked by the system.
Taylor Lytle, a youth advocate with the Anti-Recidivism Coalition who entered the foster care system at 11 years old, told the board that she had been abused and bullied in her foster home, and unnecessarily placed on psychotropic medications. “DCFS didn’t help address what I thought were my real needs,” Lytle said. “I was in a lot of pain. As a result, I also became a child of the juvenile justice system.” Lytle said that she was locked up at age 13 for the first time. “By the time I was 15, I had been at juvenile hall four times,” Lytle said. “I kept getting sent back for probation violations–things like being suspended from school and AWOLing, never for criminal offenses.”
Lytle said she was “shuffled back and forth” between the child welfare system and probation department’s care. “I just wanted somebody to support me, to mentor me, and help me reconnect with my siblings,” Lytle said. “Children in the dependency system need mentors and trauma-informed care, not juvenile halls. Young people in foster care need to feel safe and reach their dreams, not be criminalized.” Once a child enters the juvenile justice system “it is so hard to get out of it,” Lytle said. “I am hopeful this motion can change that.”
In his final words before the vote, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said he believed the county was “duty bound” to take on the task of diverting foster kids from the juvenile justice system and improving supports and, hopefully, outcomes for crossover kids. “I appeal to the entirety of the board to take up this mantle,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said shortly before the vote. “We have a lot to do in this area. But the good news is, with the support of the Office of child protection, and the network of entities involved, we can do this. We can make a difference, a real difference, in the lives of these young people.”
Image by Martin Zamora, LA County Board of Supervisors – (Left to Right): Michael Nash (OCP), Taylor Lytle (ARC), Xavier Bruttomesso (National Foster Youth Institute), Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Dr. Jacquelyn McCroskey (Children’s Data Network), Jesse de la Cruz (NFYI), Supervisor Hilda L. Solis, Lawrence Winston (NFYI), and Julio Marcial (Liberty Hill).