Training Professionals

Section 2.3

Education, Social Service, Community-based, Child Welfare, Runaway and Homeless Youth, Mental Health, Law Enforcement and Juvenile Justice Systems Should 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

Training should give first responders the ability to recognize signs of trauma, disability and mental health issues, as well as put behavior in the proper cultural and socioeconomic contexts.  

Training is critical for first responders in the child welfare, education, juvenile justice, law enforcement,1 social service, mental health and runaway and homeless youth systems.  Educating responders on the various home, community and school factors that contribute to or cause status behaviors will equip them to contribute to and implement a system that tailors approaches to the specific needs of each child and family.  Elements of the training should give first responders the ability to recognize signs of trauma, disability and mental health issues, as well as put behavior in the proper cultural and socioeconomic contexts.  Aspects of any training curriculum should be taught by appropriate experts such as child and adolescent development experts, juvenile attorneys and services providers.  Training components may include the following:

  • What research shows about the effect court involvement may have on youth (see commentary for Section 2.1).
  •  What research shows about the effect detention may have on youth (see commentary for Section 3.3).
  • What research shows regarding the factors associated with each type of status offense, including discussions of risk factors in the home, community and school.
  • How systemic failures may lead to status offense system involvement.
  • Adolescent development (see commentary for Section 1.2).
  • Being trauma-informed and understanding the effects exposure to violence and victimization can have on youth (see commentary for Section 1.4).
  • Being culturally competent and sensitive to gender and LGBTQ issues (see commentary for Section 1.10).
  • Accommodating and understanding issues relating to youth with disabilities (see commentary for Section 1.11).
  • School system policies, including discipline practices and the role of bullying in truant behavior.

Professionals who are the first to respond to alleged status offenses should also receive ongoing training on screening and assessment instruments and services available in their communities, including information on how to access them.  Training should focus on the whole child and family by ensuring first responders are aware of services in a variety of areas that often affect families who enter the status offense system.  As a result, providers will be able to identify more quickly where the family or child needs help and link them to the proper assistance without involving the court system.  This will decrease the likelihood of the child becoming further disengaged from home, school and community.  Training components along these lines may include topics like:

  • How to use available reliable and valid screenings and assessments.
  • Accessing housing programs and services.
  • Accessing education or vocational programs and services.
  • Utilizing available evidence-based or empirically-supported mental health, health or other services appropriate for different types of status offenses.

Whenever possible, cross-training of professionals from different systems and service providers should be offered.  This allows professionals in different agencies to address issues in consistent and complementary ways, while reducing costs (e.g., by using each other’s staff as expert presenters, and reducing the number of events that need to be planned and paid for).  Types of training that could be offered on responding to truancy, for example, could include:

  • Professionals from a local mental health agency educating school officials, law enforcement and juvenile justice professionals on identifying anxiety and other psychological issues and how and where to make referrals for mental health issues before these issues result in too much missed school.
  • A social service or juvenile justice agency representative educating attorneys and judges, probation and truancy officers, school personnel and others about pre-court diversion programs and the dangers of juvenile justice system involvement.
  • A training given by and for law enforcement and school professionals on bullying and gang involvement and how these lead to truancy.

1  A survey of police chiefs by the International Association of Chiefs of Police found that departments had not provided juvenile justice in-service training to officers and that half of the agencies responding did not mandate in-service juvenile justice training after the academy. International Association of Chiefs of Police (2011). Juvenile Justice Training Needs Assessment: A Survey of Law Enforcement. Washington, DC: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Available at: