Juvenile Law Center

August 11, 2017

NCJFCJ’s Resolution Commits the Judiciary to Play a Pivotal Role in Seeing and Addressing the Risk of Homelessness That So Many Court Involved Youth Face

posted by Jennifer Pokempner, Child Welfare Policy Director

 

On July 15th, 2017, the National Council for Juvenile and Family Court Judges adopted a RESOLUTION ADDRESSING THE NEEDS OF HOMELESS YOUTH AND FAMILIES IN JUVENILE AND FAMILY COURTS. This is a groundbreaking resolution that explicitly acknowledges the relationship between child welfare and juvenile justice system involvement and homelessness. It commits the judiciary to take a leadership role to reduce the chances that youth will enter these systems because of homelessness or leave these systems and become homeless. This is an important step that will be a catalyst for policy and practice changes that will benefit court-involved youth as they transition to adulthood.
 
The Resolution highlights data that shows that youth who are homeless are at high risk for entering the juvenile justice system because they are in unstable living arrangements and because they may engage in behavior to survive that can lead to arrests. The Resolution also highlights that many youth are remaining in juvenile justice placements longer simply because they do not have a home to go back to and are not able to afford independent living. Finally, the large number of youth who age out of foster care and become homeless is noted. 
 
The Resolution acknowledges the court’s pivotal role in identifying youth who are and at risk of homelessness so that they can be diverted from the justice system when homelessness is the reason for the contact, and opposes the criminalization of youth for behaviors that result from their lack of safe and stable housing. It also clarifies the court’s role in identifying youth who are at risk of homelessness and proactively addressing their needs through planning and connection with resources. The Resolution enlists judges in ensuring that transition planning truly begins on day one of a youth’s time connected with either system as a teen. It also urges judges to monitor the progress of the plan so that the youth can leave the system to housing stability, and so that system involvement is never extended solely based on a lack of housing resources. 
 
While the Resolution highlights the court’s leadership role in identifying youth who are at risk of homelessness and planning for housing stability, it also makes clear that following through with the goals set out in the Resolution requires cross system collaboration and partnerships as well as new investments—or redirection of funds—in community based resources that will reduce the risks of youth becoming homeless. To prevent youth from entering our public systems due to homelessness and to allow them to leave with housing stability, the child welfare and juvenile justice systems will need to redouble and enhance their transition planning processes and monitor the progress and outcomes of planning and they will need to make sure they have the programs and services youth need to successfully transition. This will require an increase in the services to support family reunification, especially for teens and young adults; case management to help access benefits, programs, and supports; and housing supports for youth and families. All of these services need to be informed by an understanding of trauma, and by knowledge of adolescent development and the transition to adulthood. 
 
The importance of this Resolution and the strategies it supports cannot be understated. It has been a challenge for public systems to acknowledge the degree to which the youth they serve come before them because of homelessness, and leave them without the housing stability they need to work, go to school, support themselves and stay healthy. This Resolution makes this connection clear. It enlists the leadership of the judiciary in taking actions and working with partners to meet the needs of youth who deserve a bright future – and the housing stability to make such a future possible.

 

Tags:Child Welfare and Foster Care|Permanency (Foster Care)|Transitions to Adulthood (Foster Care)

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