Journal Issue: The Juvenile Court Volume 6 Number 3 Winter 1996
A Comprehensive Juvenile Justice System: The Community Role of the Juvenile Court
An important challenge for the juvenile court of the future is to ensure that there exists a comprehensive juvenile justice system which has an appropriate response for each child who comes within the purview of the court.30 Every youth who commits a delinquent act should be held accountable. In addition, there should be a measured response for a child who commits a status offense and an intervention on behalf of each child who has been abused or neglected.
Most cases involving delinquent behavior or status offenses by youths or maltreatment of children by adult caregivers never reach juvenile court. They are resolved informally by law enforcement, probation personnel, child protective services workers, or other professionals. Only the more serious cases result in the filing of petitions and juvenile court intervention. For the less serious matters, effective alternative interventions should continue to be developed by each community. No child should slip through the cracks. A comprehensive juvenile justice system which ensures that all cases receive appropriate attention will maximize accountability and enhance prevention of future problems. Prevention is an elusive concept, difficult to identify and to measure. It is clear, however, that one form of prevention is timely intervention in response to all acts of youthful delinquency or status offenses, as well as incidents of abuse and neglect. The response sends a message that the behavior is not acceptable, that adults are concerned, and that there will be accountability.
To accomplish this goal, the justice system working with the community must have in place the necessary resources to hold youths accountable for each delinquent act, provide effective interventions for each status offender, and have protective services in place for each abused and neglected child. The nature of the response and the resources utilized will depend on the particular case and the needs of the child and family. For a delinquent youth, a range of responses must be available, including community service and monetary restitution, drug and alcohol counseling and mentoring programs, and activities such as athletic and boys club opportunities. For a status offender, there must be emergency housing and counseling for runaway and beyond-control behavior, and school-based services and interventions for the truant. For the abused or neglected child, intensive family preservation services and other family support must be available, as well as drug and alcohol counseling, domestic violence protection and programs, mental health services, and parenting classes. For each of these informal resolutions, supervision and monitoring must be in place to ensure that the youth or family follows through. If the informal intervention is ineffective, the case may have to be referred to the juvenile court.
The juvenile court has an important role in the establishment and maintenance of a comprehensive juvenile justice system. While the court is not responsible for the creation of services, it can convene the professionals, agencies, volunteers, and community-based organizations to determine whether there are appropriate responses and services available for each type of case. Where gaps exist, the court should be ready to work with community leaders to ensure that they are filled. Juvenile court judges are effective conveners and organizers.31 They are in a unique position to work with agency leaders to call together key members of the justice system and community to assess the justice system's response to cases that may never reach the courtroom.
A challenge for the juvenile court of the future is to ensure that there is an appropriate response for each situation which might come to the attention of the court. The juvenile court should identify and promote the goal of a comprehensive response to youthful delinquency, status offense, and abuse and neglect cases. To that end, the court should convene community groups and the juvenile justice system and then oversee the process by which cases are informally resolved. There should be some assurance that the youth or family has been properly identified, the intervention is completed in a timely fashion, parents and other family members are involved in any resolution, the response is fair, and the intervention is monitored.