Since July 2017, representatives from many corners of North Dakota government have been working with consultants from the Robert F. Kennedy Children’s Action Corps to develop new ways to help children caught up in both the juvenile justice system and the child welfare system.
The group presented its full report, findings and recommendations to the public on July 12.
The RFK Children’s Action Corps has worked with state and local jurisdictions for more than 15 years to help “dual status youth” – kids who are involved simultaneously with the juvenile justice system and the child welfare system. RFK has developed a framework for government teams to follow in analyzing and examining the situation of dual status youth in an area and then formulating an action strategy for improvement.
In North Dakota, the dual status youth initiative was headed up by a leadership team consisting of Supreme Court Justice Lisa Fair McEvers; Shari Doe, the director of Children and Family Services for the Department of Human Services; Lisa Bjergaard, director of the Division of Juvenile Services for the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, and Terry Traynor, the chair of the Juvenile Justice State Advisory Group.
Working under the leadership team was an executive committee chaired by Cory Pedersen, Juvenile Court Director for the South Central Judicial District, consisting of members from the courts and social service systems as well as representatives from a wide range of agencies from the Indian Affairs Commission to the Department of Public Instruction.
The study and analysis that was at the core if the dual status youth project was carried out by three groups: the data collection, management and performance measurement subcommittee, the resources and practices subcommittee, and the law policy and information sharing subcommittee.
The data subcommittee worked to identify dual status youth currently involved in the system and then looked closer at their characteristics. It determined that most of them were 14 years old or younger when the first came in contact with the juvenile justice system; that many of them ended up being placed in group homes or other facilities; and that behavioral health problems, like substance abuse, were common among the youth and their families.
The resources and practice subcommittee looked at the ways the juvenile justice and child welfare systems handle dual status youth and tried to identify ways that case flow could be changed to achieve better outcomes. The subcommittee determined that one of the best ways to improve the handling of dual status youth would be for representatives of the different systems to work more closely together as a team on behalf of the kids.
Finally, the law and policy subcommittee examined statutes and rules governing privacy of records relating to dual status youth and tried to find legal and appropriate means to overcome barriers to sharing information and cooperating in the care of dual status youth.
Based on the findings and recommendations of the subcommittees, the executive committee developed a strategy for both immediate and long term actions to help children involved in both the juvenile justice and child welfare systems. Responsibility for executing the strategy will belong to an implementation team made up of members drawn from the existing subcommittees as well as new members from the agencies who will be carrying out the plan.
The implementation team’s initial goals include completing new policy and protocols for handling dual status youth, developing tools to guide new practices and procedures – including a release for information sharing and a new benchbook section for judges handling dual status cases – organizing training on the new procedures and finalizing a memorandum of understanding between the court system and the Department of Human Services on sharing of information.
July 10, 2018