Key Principles

Section 1. Principles for Responding to Status Offenses

Judicial, legal, law enforcement, justice, social service and school professionals working with youth alleged to have committed status offenses and their families should:

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  • Apply a child and family-centric approach to status offense cases by prioritizing child and family safety, well-being and permanency for the child (Section 1.1)
  • Understand and apply current and emerging scientific knowledge about adolescent development, particularly as it relates to court-involved youth (Section 1.2)
  • Understand positive youth development principles and how they can be used to achieve better outcomes for court-involved youth (Section 1.3)
  • Ensure that past trauma and other experiences, which may underlie or lead to status-offending behaviors, are identified and responded to with appropriate screening, assessment, treatment, services and supports (Section 1.4)
  • Implement a status offense system framework that promotes shared leadership and responsibility by encouraging youth engagement in court, agency, and other meetings affecting their case, safety, well-being, treatment services and/or placement (Section 1.5)
  • Utilize alternative dispute resolution strategies to resolve youth and family conflicts outside of the court system (Section 1.6)
  • Employ family engagement strategies that identify and emphasize a family’s strengths, and empower families to find and implement solutions outside of the court system (Section 1.7)
  • Eliminate racial and ethnic disparities by being culturally aware and ensuring impartial and equal access to culturally-competent prevention and intervention services and treatment for youth charged with status offenses and their families (Section 1.8)
  • Understand the developmental, behavioral and social differences between boys and girls and how their service needs are accordingly different.  Make gender-responsive choices regarding interventions, treatment and services before, during, and following court involvement (Section 1.9)
  • Ensure that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning (LGBTQ) youth who are charged with status offenses receive fair treatment, equal access to services, and respect and sensitivity from all professionals and other youth in court, agency, service, school and placement (Section 1.10)
  • Ensure children do not enter the status offense system because of learning, mental health, sensory, speech/language or co-occurring disabilities.  Ensure that children with disabilities who do enter the status offense system are treated fairly and given access to needed evaluations, treatments and services (Section 1.11)
  • Coordinate with other relevant formal and informal systems of care to better serve children and families (Section 1.12)

Section 2. Efforts to Avoid Court Involvement

Education, social service, community-based, child welfare, runaway and homeless youth, mental health, law enforcement and juvenile justice systems should:

  • Aim to resolve all status offense matters through the provision of voluntary diversion services (Section 2.1)
  • Determine the proper course of action by identifying the family circumstances, unmet needs, or other factors that led to contact with the status offense system (Section 2.2)
  • Train professionals who first respond to alleged status offenses about family and community dynamics and other factors that can cause status behaviors, as well as the availability and role of screenings, assessments and services (Section 2.3)

Law enforcement systems should:

  • Focus on prevention and intervention by connecting children and families to needed services in lieu of charging or detaining children alleged to have committed status offenses (Section 2.4)

Education systems should:

  • Implement responses to truancy that match the reasons youth are absent from school and that aim to avoid court involvement, school suspension or expulsion (Section 2.5)

Child welfare, juvenile justice and runaway and homeless youth systems should:

  • Implement responses to alleged status behaviors that aim to avoid court involvement and are tailored to the reasons the youth and family have been referred to the child welfare, juvenile justice or runaway and homeless youth system (Section 2.6)

Court intake personnel should:

  • Not accept jurisdiction over any status offense case until it has been determined that the applicable statutory requirements were met and that the agency that first responded to the claim made reasonable efforts to avoid court involvement by exhausting all available, culturally appropriate, pre-court assessments, services, entitlements and treatments (Section 2.7)

Section 3. Efforts to Limit Court Involvement

Judicial officers should:

  • Dismiss or, alternatively, stay proceedings when community-based services or other formal or informal systems approaches would circumvent the need for continued court jurisdiction (Section 3.1)
  • Assess early whether the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) applies (Section 3.2)
  • Ensure youth charged with status offenses have independent, qualified and effective representation throughout status offense proceedings (Section 3.3)
  • Not allow children in status offense cases to waive counsel or alternatively only allow waiver if: (1) the waiver is on the record, (2) the court has fully inquired into the child’s understanding and capacity and (3) the waiver occurs in the presence of and in consultation with an attorney (Section 3.4)
  • Exercise their statutory and inherent authorities to determine, prior to adjudication, whether youth and families received, in a timely manner, appropriate interventions that could have limited their court involvement (Section 3.5)
  • Exercise their statutory and inherent authorities throughout the child and family’s court involvement to ensure that service delivery systems are  providing the appropriate assessments, treatments and services to children and families in status offense cases (Section 3.6)
  • Assess alternatives to out-of-home placement or secure confinement (Section 3.7)
  • Not securely detain or confine youth at any point in the status offense process (Section 3.8)

Lawyers for alleged and adjudicated status offenders should:

  • Advocate for voluntary and community-based assistance to limit and/or avoid continued court involvement and secure confinement (Section 3.9)
  • Advocate for child clients to be treated fairly throughout the court process and for their due process rights to be protected (Section 3.10)
  • Ensure that child clients’ rights and entitlements under relevant federal and state laws are protected (Section 3.11)

Judicial officers and entities providing case management services should:

  • Effectively manage and close court and agency cases in a timely manner (Section 3.12)

Section 4. Recommendations for Policy and Legislative Implementation

State and local policymakers and advocates should:

  • Eliminate juvenile court penalties and sanctions for behaviors labeled status offenses and ensure that systems are accurately responding to behaviors as either episodes of normal adolescent behavior, or critical unmet youth and family needs that are best resolved through non-judicial interventions and supports (Section 4.1)
  • Support an infrastructure of community-based and child and family serving programs and systems to ensure direct youth and family access to a seamless, comprehensive and non-judicial continuum of care that is empowered and resourced to respond to behaviors that might otherwise be labeled as status offenses (Section 4.2)
  • In those limited circumstances where court involvement is necessary, ensure court mechanisms are in place that allow the appropriate court division to effectively serve the needs of the youth and family without inappropriate use or risk of more punitive outcomes for the child and family (Section 4.3)
  • Prohibit schools from referring youth who engage in status offense behaviors to court unless and until the school has made all reasonable efforts to avoid court involvement (Section 4.4)
  • Prohibit parents/caregivers from referring youth who engage in status offense behaviors to the juvenile court until the family has first sought and meaningfully engaged non-judicial interventions (Section 4.5)
  • Promote coordinated, blended or braided public funding streams that create a seamless, comprehensive community-based continuum of care for youth and families (Section 4.6)
  • Enact laws that ensure the right to counsel for youth who come into contact with the juvenile court for a status offense by not allowing youth to waive their right to counsel or only allowing waiver if: (1) it is on the record, (2) the court has fully inquired into the child’s understanding and capacity, and (3) the waiver occurs in the presence of and in consultation with an attorney (Section 4.7)
  • Prohibit the use of locked confinement for youth petitioned to court for a status offense (Section 4.8)
  • Mandate meaningful efforts to engage youth and families in all aspects of case planning, service delivery, court proceedings and disposition strategies (Section 4.9)

Federal policymakers and advocates should:

  • Amend the JJDPA to prohibit the use of the valid court order (VCO) exception to securely confine youth adjudicated for status offenses (Section 4.10)
  • Strengthen relevant federal agencies to provide research, training and technical assistance to state and local authorities to better assist state status offense system reform efforts (Section 4.11)
  • Create coordinated approaches between federal government agencies and programs that serve youth and families that will help states coordinate, blend or braid federal funding streams to create a seamless, comprehensive and, to the greatest extent possible, non-judicial continuum of care for youth and families (Section 4.12)