Sens. Peters, Grassley Introduce Legislation to Address Needs of At-Risk Youth

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) today introduced legislation to help states identify and respond to the needs of children who come into contact with both the juvenile justice and child welfare systems. The Childhood Outcomes Need New Efficient Community Teams (CONNECT) Act would authorize grants to improve cooperation between, and data collection by, the state agencies overseeing juvenile justice and child welfare programs.

“Thousands of at-risk children in Michigan and across the country are falling through the cracks in these systems that are supposed to help protect and support them,” said Senator Peters. “We need more information about who these young people are and the challenges they face so they have a fair shot at a path to success. I’m proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation that will help states better identify dual status youth and develop programs that will give our nation’s most vulnerable children a chance to lead strong, happy lives. 

“Youth involved in both the foster care and juvenile systems shouldn’t fall through the cracks and 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 a life of 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 ultimately to produce better, positive outcomes.”

The CONNECT Act authorizes grants to facilitate or enhance collaboration between state juvenile justice and child welfare systems. State agencies overseeing these areas would be required to apply for grants jointly and 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. Grantees would also be required to develop practices, policies and protocols to confront the challenges faced by dual 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. These children also often experience poor educational performance, higher recidivism rates, higher detention rates, disruptive living arrangements and substantial behavioral health needs. Research estimates that as many of 55 percent of children in the juvenile justice system have had previous 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. 

“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,” said Christine James-Brown, President and CEO of the Child Welfare League of America. “CWLA believes that this coordination needs to be a higher priority and we are pleased that the CONNECT Act promotes this very important goal.”

“The Robert F. Kennedy National Resource Center for Juvenile Justice, led by RFK Children’s Action Corps, whose staff have worked diligently in partnership with state and local jurisdictions across the country for the past 16 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 of the 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.”

“On behalf of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice (CJJ) Executive Board, I would like to thank Senators Peters and Grassley for introducing the Childhood Outcomes Need New Efficient Community Teams Act, also known as the CONNECT Act,”  said Marie N. Williams, Executive Director of the Coalition For Juvenile Justice. “Close collaborations between child welfare systems and juvenile justice systems are vital to ensuring that our children receive the treatment and services they need to address the trauma they have experienced and help them become successful adults.”

“At Boys Town, we provide hope and healing to thousands of the nation's most vulnerable youth, including those who touch both the juvenile justice and child welfare systems. We wholeheartedly support the CONNECT Act as a crucial piece of legislation that will encourage states to broaden the circles of support around dual status youth through systems collaboration, innovation, data collection, and the development of a continuum of best practices with proven outcomes.” said Father Steven Boes, National Executive Director of Boys Town. “Thank you Senator Peters and Senator Grassley for your ongoing leadership and commitment to improving the lives of children and families."

“The link between a young person experiencing trauma at an early age—for example, abuse, neglect, or entering the child welfare system—and receiving a delinquency charge is far too significant to ignore. If we truly want to stop children from entering the justice system, we must focus on the systemic root causes of at-risk behavior. That is why we support the CONNECT Act. We must strengthen all of our child-serving systems so they can work in unison to be proactive rather than reactionary; healing rather than punishing,” said Kristen Staley, Deputy Director of the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency.

“Bethany Christian Services applauds Senator Peters and Senator Grassley for their leadership in introducing this bipartisan legislation that will give state and local juvenile justice and child welfare entities the help they need identifying dual status youth and provide the services at-risk kids need to lead healthy and productive lives,” said Bill Blacquiere, President and CEO of Bethany Christian Services. “Bethany Christian Services works with both juvenile justice and child welfare programs, and this bill will help our organization and state agencies address the challenges at-risk children face, including high rates of recidivism, detention, placement changes, and general behavioral health challenges.”