Spirited Partnerships are Key to Saving “Crossover” Youth

Are you familiar with the term “crossover” youth? It is a fairly new term that is being used in social service agencies across the United States, and refers to young people who have transitioned between child welfare agencies and juvenile justice agencies. These youth have been in the child welfare system as a result of child maltreatment and abuse and then proceeded to make some poor choices that have landed them in the juvenile justice system. Spirited partnerships can be the foundation to progressive change in the lives of “crossover” youth.

The lack of communication between systems makes it hard to determine the number of youth involved in both child welfare and juvenile justice services. Dennis Mondoro, strategic community development officer for the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention stated that "what we've seen is there is a population of youth that are at one point or another in both systems, and that this crossover population is really an even more at-risk group.” According to Kids Count (2014), children who suffer maltreatment and childhood trauma are 55 % more likely to be arrested as a juvenile. Research by Bilchik & Nash (2008) suggests that this increased rate of arrest may be due to the negative impact that child abuse and neglect have on cognitive, social-emotional, and physical development.

Of course, not every child who suffers maltreatment will become a delinquent youth. But there are enough crossover youth to cause concern. Shouldn’t we be providing early intervention services to interrupt the path that these kids are taking? If child welfare is already involved, shouldn’t they share pertinent information with schools, mental health professionals and other agencies that could help to address the needs of traumatized youth?

There are examples of very young children being referred to the juvenile justice system for problems that should be addressed within the schools or child welfare systems. One such incident, reported on CNN in 2012, involved an unruly and violent 6 year old girl in Georgia who was removed from her school in handcuffs. Her combative behavior resulted in suspension for the remainder of the school year and regular monitoring by child welfare and juvenile justice. In our communities and our schools, these children are being labeled as the “bad kids”. We should not be giving up on these kids so easily.

Working as the director of a family resource center in a public school district, I have the opportunity to work with many sweet, innocent, loving children who are victims of child maltreatment or abuse. So starts their journey through the child welfare system, and so starts the warning signs…depression, aggressive behaviors, defiance, and lack of interest in school. As school staff, we often lack the information needed for appropriate intervention. Do we send a note home? Suspend the child? Recommend mental health services? What can we do within the schools to help youth avoid the label of juvenile delinquent? With more information about the youth and his/her family situation, there would be fewer questions about next steps.

It is imperative that the systems work collaboratively to reduce the number of “crossover” youth.  Early intervention is the key. Child welfare, juvenile justice and public schools must join forces to identify risk factors for delinquency such as drug use in the home, poverty, low academic achievement, truancy, negative peer influence, and family violence. Additionally, these partners must collaborate to strengthen protective factors (e.g., increasing attachments to school; reinforcing associations with prosocial peers) which can increase a child's resiliency to the risks they face within their homes and communities.

This type of collaboration requires frank conversations, and sometimes challenges normal operating procedures. But, through open dialogue, professionals within these agencies will hopefully realize that they share similar values and goals that support the safety and well-being of “crossover” youth. With any luck, they will begin working together to decrease the extent to which these families need their services. It is time for action. We must initiate open dialogue and work together to decrease the progression of “crossover” youth in our communities.


Author Anna Simpson Houston is a student in the Corrections and Juvenile Justice Studies program at EKU and the Director of the Family Resource Center for the Danville Independent Schools District. She will be graduating from EKU in May 2015.

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Bilchik, S. & Nash, M. (2008). Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice: Two Sides of the Same Coin. Juvenile and Family Justice, 16-20.
Campbell, A. (2012, April 17). Police handcuff 6-year-old student in Georgia. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2012/04/17/justice/georgia-student-handcuffed/.
Kids Count Data Center. (2014). Kentucky Indicators. Retrieved from http://datacenter.kidscount.org/data#KY/2/0.
Marohn, K. (2013, March 11). Intervention efforts try to save “crossover” youth. Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/03/11/intervention-efforts-try-to-save-crossover-youths-/1973561/.

Published on March 04, 2015