The California State Los Angeles School of Criminalistics and Criminal Justice, in collaboration in the Children’s Data Network (CDN) at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, conducted a retrospective analysis of the timing and degree of previous involvement with the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) for a recent cohort of Probation youth. The goal of this study was to examine the proportion of youth with intensive Probation involvement who had also touched the child protection system at an earlier point in their lives, but were not necessarily known to both systems simultaneously. It was designed to identify possible touch points when prevention-oriented family support and strengthening could have helped to resolve family problems at an earlier stage, potentially preventing later entry into the juvenile justice system.
The results indicate that among youth involved in the juvenile justice system, the prevalence of past child protection involvement may be even higher than previously realized. Four out of five LA Probation youth had received at least one referral for suspected maltreatment, with many experiencing their first referral early in childhood. Prevalence of referred and substantiated maltreatment, case opening, and foster care placement was significantly higher among Female (vs. male) youth exiting Probation and Black (vs. Latino and white) youth exiting Probation.
These data illuminate the importance of coordinating cross-system responses both for “dual status” youth who are simultaneously involved with both child protection and delinquency systems and for “crossover” youth who sequentially come to the attention of both systems. They also suggest that it is critical that we carefully examine the resources available and connections made for families referred to child protection. Previous research has shown that a first referral of maltreatment is often a seminal event in the life of a child – frequently followed by additional referrals and other adversities. Adoption of a countywide approach to prevention provides a significant opportunity to align public and private resources, enhance existing prevention and early intervention efforts, and support more families so they don’t require the attention of our child protection and delinquency systems.