Peters, Grassley Reintroduce Legislation to Address Needs of At-Risk Youth

Senators Introduce Bill During National Foster Care Month

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) today announced they are reintroducing bipartisan legislation to help states identify and meet the needs of children who come into contact with both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems, also known as dual status youth. The Childhood Outcomes Need New Efficient Community Teams (CONNECT) Act would authorize competitive grants to improve data collection on dual status youth and encourage better cooperation between state agencies overseeing juvenile justice and child welfare programs. Senator Grassley co-chairs the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth, and Senator Peters is a member of the Caucus.

“Too many children are at risk of falling through the cracks because unnecessary barriers prevent the juvenile justice and child welfare systems from giving children the services they need,” said Senator Peters. “The more we know about dual status youth, the more we can do to ensure programs are available to support our most vulnerable children and give them a better chance at success. This bipartisan bill will help states collect information and tailor programs that will help at-risk youth lead happy, fruitful lives.” 

“Youth involved in both the foster care and juvenile systems shouldn’t face additional challenges because of lack of coordination,” said Senator Grassley. “Too often, federal and state agencies don’t interact enough. Child welfare and juvenile justice experts need to work together to keep vulnerable youth safe, off the streets, and away from crime. Our bill encourages state and local agencies to work as a team to develop best practices and better policies to help at-risk youth and help them succeed in life.”

The CONNECT Act authorizes grants administered by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to help state juvenile justice and child welfare agencies collect data on dual status youths to foster a better understanding of their unique circumstances and improve coordination in the delivery of services to at-risk children.

Research has found that many dual status youths have a history of trauma, mental health conditions or substance abuse issues that require specialized treatment, and often experience poor educational performance, higher recidivism rates, higher detention rates, disruptive living arrangements and substantial behavioral health needs. According to the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency, as many of 55 percent of children in the juvenile justice system have also had contact with the child welfare system. 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.

The bill is supported by a broad coalition of organizations including the Robert F. Kennedy National Resource Center on Juvenile Justice, the Child Welfare League, Boys Town, the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency, the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, Bethany Christian Services, and the Children’s Defense Fund.

“The Coalition for Juvenile Justice wholeheartedly supports the CONNECT Act. As the voice of the Juvenile Justice State Advisory Groups, CJJ recognizes the importance of partnering across systems to collect better data and provide more comprehensive services for our youth,” said Naomi Smoot, Esq., Executive Director, Coalition for Juvenile Justice. “For far too long we have looked at our young people in silos. Collaborations such as those that this bill envisions are essential to providing our young people with safe and secure futures.”

“Children who are dual status youth are owed our very best. These are our children who have suffered trauma, maltreatment, neglect and who have often been placed outside of their homes in foster care or in group care settings,” said Judge Colin Witt of Polk County, Iowa. “We need to work together and treat each of them as one our kids by insisting child welfare and juvenile justice systems work efficiently and well together to meet each child's current needs. The CONNECT Act and the collaboration and efforts it would foster would provide a better and more effective life vest for so many children.

“The Robert F. Kennedy National Resource Center for Juvenile Justice, led by RFK Children’s Action Corps, whose staff has worked diligently in partnership with state and local jurisdictions across the country for the past 17 years to improve outcomes and integrated system performance for dual status youth, encourages the passage of this important legislation.” said John A. Tuell, Executive Director, Robert F. Kennedy National Resource Center for Juvenile Justice. “The focus on collaborative leadership, collection and management of critical data, coordinated use of resources, and resolution of information sharing issues contained in the legislation’s language provides an informed blueprint for state and local jurisdictions to plan and implement sustainable best practices that will result in positive youth outcomes and substantial fiscal savings.”

“The CONNECT Act continues to be an important opportunity to understand and promote better coordination between two critical agencies – child welfare and juvenile justice,” said Christine James-Brown, President and CEO of the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA). “CWLA believes that this coordination needs to be a higher priority and we are pleased that Senator Grassley and Senator Peters are continuing their commitment to this effort and legislation. CWLA hopes that this bill can become a reality this year.”

“The CONNECT Act will advance states’ efforts to address the individual strengths and challenges of youth facing dual involvement in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems,” said Mary Ann Scali, Executive Director, National Juvenile Defender Center. “Investing in strategies to keep children from being drawn deeper into the justice system, including provisions to improve access to counsel and protect due process rights, will lead to more successful outcomes for youth, increase community safety, and avoid costly and unnecessary incarceration.”