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Excerpted From: Jessica K. Heldman and Geoffrey A. Gaither, An Examination of Racism and Racial Discrimination Impacting Dual Status Youth, 42 Children's Legal Rights Journal 21 (2021) (210 Footnotes) (Full Document)


Racial disproportionality and disparity have long been characteristic of both the child welfare and youth justice systems. Discriminatory policies and practices present at the origin of these systems continue to plague children, families, and communities. The impact of racism upon dual status youth--children who encounter both the child welfare and youth justice systems--is particularly concerning. Dual status youth tend to experience worse outcomes in a number of domains than youth involved in only one system. Dual status youth are also disproportionately Black significantly more so than in any single system.

Efforts to reform the youth justice system in recent years have included initiatives to improve outcomes for dual status youth and to interrupt the trajectory of dual system involvement--primarily the movement of youth from the child welfare system into the youth justice system. Other initiatives have sought to reduce or eliminate the racial disproportionality and disparities within both the child welfare and youth justice systems. This article suggests that each of these reform efforts must inform one another, and to make progress, both systems must acknowledge their shared history of racial discrimination and commit to transformative solutions.

Part I of this article explores the phenomenon of dual status youth by reviewing existing research that identifies risk factors for dual status, including system experiences that too often contribute to dual system involvement, particularly for Black youth. Part II provides context for how racial discrimination affects Black dual status youth by exploring how both the child welfare and youth justice systems have historically interacted with Black children and families, highlighting examples of systematic discrimination in both systems. This section provides a brief synopsis of the evolution of child welfare and youth justice policy and the pervasive disenfranchisement of, disregard for, and dehumanization of Black youth and families within that policy context.

Part III reviews evidence demonstrating that the disparate experiences of Black children and families are not simply a vestige of a bygone era, but persist today through multiple points of decision-making within these systems. This review highlights the policies and practices that compound the risk of Black foster youths' initial and deepening involvement with the youth justice system. Part IV offers a starting place for the work of addressing disproportionality and disparities impacting Black dual status youth, challenging jurisdictions to commit to an anti-racist framework based on recognition, reorientation, and responsibility. This framework aims to create a foundation for crafting transformative solutions that positively impact children and families-- particularly Black dual status youth.

[. . .]

Dual status youth provide the most comprehensive view into the issue of disproportionality and disparities that have plagued child-serving systems since their inception. Rather than viewing each system in isolation, the plight of dual status youth forces us to recognize the shared history of exclusion, dehumanization, and mistreatment of Black youth by our government systems. To be sure, other systems are similarly culpable, including the school system in no small part. Nevertheless, the examination of racial discrimination and the part it has played in our child welfare and youth justice systems is a powerful starting point for the discussion and actions necessary to disrupt the persistent problem of racial inequities for youth. To approach system reform with an understanding of the deleterious effects of this trajectory disproportionately experienced by Black dual status youth provides a pathway beyond reformation into true transformation.

Jessica K. Heldman is the Fellmeth-Peterson Professor in Residence in Child Rights at University of San Diego School of Law and its Children's Advocacy Institute.

The Hon. Geoffrey A. Gaither is the Presiding Judge in the Family Division Court 9 of the Marion County Superior Court in Indianapolis, Indiana.

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