On Wednesday, July 13 a bipartisan bill was introduced by Senator Gary Peters (D-MI) and Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) to encourage coordination between state child welfare and juvenile justice systems in addressing the needs of vulnerable youth caught between the two systems.

The Childhood Outcomes Need New Efficient Community Teams (Connect Act) would authorize grants targeted to improve both cooperation and data collection by the two state agencies. The grants would be for five years with the possibility of two additional years.  In addition to other requirements states would have to identify dual status youths; identify individuals who are at risk of becoming dual status youths; identify common characteristics shared by dual status youths in the State; and determine the prevalence of dual status youth in the state.

Peters said, “Thousands of at-risk children in Michigan and across the country are falling through the cracks in these systems that are supposed to help and protect them…I am proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation that will help states better identify dual status youth and develop programs…” and Grassley, who has been working to get a reauthorization of the JJDPA through the Senate said, “Too often, federal and state agencies don’t interact enough.  Child welfare and juvenile justice experts need to work together to keep vulnerable children safe, off the streets, and away from a life of crime.”

Interested states would submit a joint application by child welfare and juvenile justice agencies.  They would have to develop plans to collect data to identify the prevalence and characteristics of “dual status youth”—children who come into contact with both the juvenile justice and welfare systems. Successful grantees would be required to develop practices, policies and protocols to deal with problems faced by status youth. The grants would be administered by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Many youths in both the juvenile justice and child welfare systems have a history of trauma, mental health conditions or substance abuse issues that require specialized treatment. The bill sponsors site statistics that as many as 55 percent of children in the juvenile justice system have had previous contact with the child welfare system.

The two senators indicated that between 2009 and 2015 approximately 41,600 children were placed in the Michigan foster care system and about 40,600 Michigan children had at least one formal juvenile delinquency petition during the same time period. From 2009 to 2015, Iowa had 33,520 foster care placements and 19,381 juveniles with a delinquency petition. A juvenile delinquency petition occurs when cases involving those under 18 years of age are referred to juvenile court.

CWLA had worked with the two offices and has endorsed the legislation.

Chris James-Brown, President and CEO said, “In addressing the needs of some of our most vulnerable children and youth it is essential that agencies and jurisdictions work together to better address the needs of these young people who find themselves involved with both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.  CWLA believes that this coordination needs to be a higher priority and we are pleased that the CONNECT Act promotes this very important goal.”

She also highlighted that the core principles of the National Blueprint for Excellence in Child Welfare that include Shared Responsibility and Leadership requiring that we advocate for collaboration and communication and meaningful partnerships between child welfare and other child and family systems.