Missed Opportunities

September 2015

Children pulled into the child welfare system are too often not afforded the kinds of stabilizing support systems that are essential for their healthy growth and well-being. This puts them at high risk of developing reactive behaviors that lead to their entry into the juvenile justice system. Involvement in the juvenile justice system is tied to academic failure, future arrests and other long-term consequences.

We must seek interventions to prevent these “multi-system,” “dual-status” or “crossover” youth from entering the juvenile justice system. This review found that within the child welfare system, the children who eventually had juvenile justice involvement had significantly different experiences from those who did not. These findings present opportunities to intervene, and incorporate different policies and programs that can prevent these children’s juvenile justice involvement. CfJJ also identified areas where better data collection is needed to gather the essential information that can guide us to success and highlight what works.

Examining the data

  • Most youth in the Massachusetts juvenile justice system have been involved in our child welfare system: Youth currently involved with DCF make up roughly 39% of the detention population, and 37% of the DYS committed caseload, our analysis found. A study of a much larger sample of youth committed to DYS between 2000–2012 found 72% had involvement with DCF either prior to or during their involvement with DYS. 58% of dual-status youth had experienced at least one home removal, including 77% of girls and 53% of boys.
  • They became involved with the child welfare system at very young ages: 57% of boys and 59% of girls in our study had their first DCF intake between birth and 5 years old.
  • Dual-Status youth have many placements and home removals: While the median number of lifetime placements for children in DCF care is three, most youth in our study had far more. 39% of girls had more than six placements, and 15% had 11 or more; among boys, 27% had six or more, and 10% had 11 or more. One boy had experienced 37 different placements.
  • Boys and minorities are at higher risk of becoming dually involved: Compared to the overall DCF population, multi-system youth were disproportionately boys (82% v. 50% of the DCF population) and black or Latino (60% v. 39%).


Preventing crossover: Report Recommendations

  • From entry into the child welfare system, the state should use a positive youth development framework aimed at a forceful emphasis on providing the essential elements of childhood.
  • Identify and support families who are at risk of re-entering the child welfare system.
  • Adopt best practices to prevent placement disruptions. Disruptions should be treated as an unacceptable development requiring the immediate attention of all advocates for the child.
  • Judges and attorneys for children should develop new standards of engagement in case planning when a child becomes dually-involved. They should be notified immediately and hold a hearing within 7 days when there is any placement disruption.
  • Evaluate the reason children are being arrested from Stabilization, Assessment and Rapid Reintegration Programs (STARR) to identify ways to prevent this locus of crossover: Children are often placed in STARR not because of their own needs, but because a suitable placement is not available.
  • Courts should look for opportunities to keep kids with open child welfare cases out of the delinquency system, such as deferring prosecution or staying delinquency matters prior to arraignment.
  • Improve data collection. Gathering information on all dual-status youth, including their educational needs and progress, will present more data for implementing evidence-based best practices to treat their needs, and identifying opportunities to prevent juvenile justice involvement.

For a PDF copy of the report, please click HERE.

For a copy of the press release, please click HERE.

CfJJ's presentation on the report is available as a powerpoint HERE.

A companion report by the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, Funding Opportunities: Services that Help Prevent Kids in the Child Welfare System from Entering the Juvenile Justice System, examines services that help children and families in the child welfare system. These services can include family stabilization to help children stay at home while their families receive supports to help them through a difficult time, supports for kids living with foster families, and other supports such as those for vulnerable kids at school. Funding for some of these services has recently increased, but even with increases, funding may not be sufficient to meet the needs of these vulnerable children. Further, these services are scattered across different agencies, pointing out both the need for and challenges of collaboration. This report is available at HERE.


Additional Resources

Trauma in Dual-Status Youth: Putting Things in Perspective. RFK National Resource Center for Juvenile Justice's first policy brief on dually involved children.

Identifying Dual Status Youth with Trauma-Related Problems.RFK National Resource Center for Juvenile Justice's second policy brief on dually involved children.

Placement Instability as a Risk Factor in Proximal Sexually Inappropriate and Aggressive Behaviors in a Child Welfare Sample. Justice Resource Institute article on the harms of placement instability.


These reports were released on September 29, 2015 by Citizens for Juvenile Justice and the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center at a forum hosted by the Massachusetts Bar Association.

This research was funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. We thank them for their support but acknowledge that the findings and conclusions presented in this report are those of Citizens for Juvenile Justice alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Foundation.