Dually Involved Youth
Youth involved with both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems are referred to as dually involved youth. Children involved in the child welfare system are highly vulnerable for maladaptive outcomes, and in particular, engagement in delinquent behaviors. Those youth who criminally offend are likely to shift back and forth between the two systems, potentially increasing their vulnerability for poor outcomes. The theoretical bases for this study are derived from ecological systems and attachment theories, specifically the influence of trauma on attachment. The Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) and the Department of Youth Services (DYS) provided the data for this secondary analysis of the characteristics of dually involved youth and the factors related to offense severity for youth committed to DYS. The study explored: 1) the relationship of gender, race, and age of delinquency commitment to offense severity; 2) the influence of child welfare involvement (measured by total unique count of social workers, home removal, and out-of-home placement) to offense severity; 3) the influence of prior maltreatment to offense severity; and 4) the association of gender and race to the likelihood of dual involvement. Results indicated that while maltreatment was found to be significantly associated with more severe offenses, greater child welfare involvement was associated with less severe offenses. Additionally, the results indicated that female juvenile delinquents were significantly more likely to be dually involved. The issues of racial disproportionality within the juvenile justice and child welfare systems were examined. While results did not indicate statistical significance in determining the likelihood of dual involvement based on race, disproportionality in the juvenile justice system exists. Implications for policy changes included the following: 1) the need for gender specific programming, 2) an increased commitment to reducing disproportionality in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems, 3) increased focus on multisystem services to meet the needs of youth. Strategies for using kinship placements as an avenue to maintain familial connections are discussed. Additional research is needed to explore the influence of the interaction between gender and race, mental health and environment factors (e.g., poverty, neighborhood characteristics) on likelihood of dual involvement.