Crossover Youth


Read more in our Missed Opportunities report.

“Crossover” youth are children who are involved with both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.  They may also be referred to as “Dual Status” or “Multi-System” youth.  CfJJ uses the term “Multi-System Youth” in order to capture the fact that multiple systems have, or are currently, “touching” this population of young people – these systems include schools, mental health organizations, hospitals, courts, families, law enforcement, mentors, etc.  The most common crossover pathway occurs when a child involved in, or with a history of involvement in, the child welfare system, is subsequently arrested and processed in the juvenile delinquency system, but there are several ways in which a youth can end up involved in both.  In some cases, the delinquency occurs first and prompts a referral to child welfare to open a new case or reopen a previously closed case. 

We know from national research that children involved in the child welfare system are entering the juvenile justice system at a higher rate than children not involved, and that minority children are disproportionately represented in both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. (Shay Bilchik & Judge Michael Nash, Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice: Two Sides of the Same Coin, Juvenile and Family Justice Today, 19 (Fall 2008); Jessica Short & Christy Sharp, Disproportionate Minority Contact in the Juvenile Justice System (2005)). 

Information on dual status youth in Massachusetts revealed a similar profile.  In order to better understand the risk factors for dual involvement in Massachusetts, CfJJ examined what distinguished DCF youth who ended up being arrested by analyzing their history of involvement with the child welfare system.  For our report: Missed Opportunities: Preventing Youth in the Child Welfare System from Entering the Juvenile Justice System, CfJJ reviewed the data of dually-involved youth in the Commonwealth from the years 2014-2015 and found that:

  • About 40% of the DYS detention population had an open DCF case, and 72% of youth committed to DYS were involved with DCF either prior to or during their commitment.
  • The majority of dual-status youth had their first DCF intake by age 5, and nearly 40% by age 3. 
  • Nearly 50% of girls and 40% of boys had experienced multiple home removals.
  • While the median number of lifetime placements for children in DCF care is three, most youth in our study had far more. For girls, 40% experienced more than six placements, and 15% had eleven or more.  One young man had 37 different placements over his lifetime in care.

National research points to significant risk factors for “crossing over” – these are: multiple child welfare placements, being a minority, age of removals, and type of placements.  (Center for Juvenile Justice Reform & Casey Family Programs. (2010). Crossover Youth Practice Model; Ryan, Joseph. Child Welfare League of America. (2006). “African American Males in Foster Care and the Risk of Delinquency: The Value of Social Bonds and Permanence.” The Link: Connecting Juvenile Justice & Child Welfare, Vol. 4, No. 3. Pg. 8.  More online here

Crossover youth are also more likely than youth in the general population or the child welfare population to suffer from mental health and substance abuse issues, and disproportionately experience difficulties learning or engaging in school.

These children are among the most vulnerable in our state, and CfJJ is committed to working with all agencies and allies to help prevent children involved with DCF from becoming involved in the juvenile justice system and to divert, protect and help them if they do face arrest.