Q&A with Macon Stewart, Co-Author of the Crossover Youth Practice Model

Growing research continues to support that restorative practices allow youth to remain in their homes and schools, help systems-involved families heal and keep communities intact. As such, prioritizing kinship care as a means to prevent out-of-home youth from becoming dually involved is reflected in juvenile justice and child welfare organizations’ practices and priorities nationwide. Additionally, models like the Crossover Youth Practice Model (CYPM) exemplify the need for cross-sector collaboration in advocating for youth to remain with family and community at all costs when possible. ASCI spoke with two leaders in the sector working to improve the lives of youth and prevent them from becoming dually involved—or system-involved at all—through their various youth and family initiatives. 

Macon Stewart, MSW

Deputy Director, Multi-System Operations

Center for Juvenile Justice Reform, Georgetown University

ASCI: Can you please tell us about your role and work at the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform?

Macon Stewart: In my role, I oversee a number of different programs. Two of them are multi-systems in nature in that they deal with improving services and supports to communities through technical assistance to enhance their ability to support young people who are involved in more than one system of care, primarily juvenile justice and child welfare.

Most of my work, speaks to young people who we call crossover youth or dually-involved youth. There’s also another body of work that I oversee that deals with providing support to rural communities specifically around multi-systems youth, as part of the Center for Coordinated Assistance to State’s a partnership with American Institutes for Research and Council of Juvenile Justice Administrators funded through the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Lastly, we’re starting a new program that focuses on addressing the racial-ethnic and socioeconomic disparities of young people involved in the juvenile justice system, using a systems improvement methodology called Plan-Do-Study-Act. These are the three programs that are under my portfolio at the center.

ASCI: How can we work across sectors to meet the needs of youth who are at risk of being considered crossover youth?

MS: People who work within the systems have to realize that number-one: These are primarily the same young people. For example, I may work in the juvenile justice field, but nine times out of 10, the young person I’m working with at some point in their life has been involved with the child welfare system, whether it’s just a referral to CPS or actually having an open case. They may not have one now, but they likely have a history of engagement at some level. And for young people who are involved with the child welfare system, they are at risk of becoming involved with the juvenile justice system the longer they remain in the child welfare system.

Ultimately, regardless of which system you encounter first, by virtue of the systems’ inability to adequately serve youth in a holistic way, they become more vulnerable to interacting with a second system of care. To me, that’s why the onus is on all of these systems to work collaboratively in figuring out, how we mitigate the likelihood of a young person going into the second system of care because the research tells us they fair worse. This is referencing young people engaging with systems that can take custody of them – which is the child welfare and juvenile justice.  The reality of managing the case of a youth in child welfare is difficult. If I’m a child welfare worker (and I have been), and I’m having a lot of challenges with a young person because of behavior issues, etc., you often times feel like the thing to do is to have them detained or have them tethered to a delinquency case, which gives you more teeth to control the young persons behavior. However, the reality is it’s a quick fix for the moment but in the long-term that young person is at greater risk for more negative outcomes due to things such as the peer contagion factor.

All of us enter into this work to do better. And if we collectively understood the long-term effects of having multiple systems involved with young people, I think it would impact some of the policy and practice decisions being made. It should impact how direct service staff work with youth directly and should push leaders to enhance opportunities for sharing resources and funding in a way that looks at prevention of system entry versus requiring formal involvement.

We have to listen to youth and their families. This young people and families are the consumers of our products (the system) and they are telling us it’s not working and we keep trying to use “stop leak” instead of replacing the whole tire (as a metaphor). We are trying to repair systems that were built to be oppressive. We are achieving the intended results. Now that we are seeking different results we need to deconstruct and rebuild these systems. The challenge is, we can’t start from scratch.

I think about when I was a social worker, I don’t know that I ever thought about the fact that where my young people were was because we had failed them as a collective. And I was complicit in that. Even as a worker regardless of how I got the case, how long I had it, I was still complicit in that, and I was part of the problem. And I think that’s what people don’t think about. They don’t think about the things that are the real-life tangible things that make a difference for young people that’s not a service, it’s not a support. Young people have received more than enough therapy to last them a lifetime. There are other things that they need that I don’t know that procurement can provide. And they need relationships, and they need people who will believe them and who will stand with them.

ASCI: How does the use of the Crossover Youth Practice Model (CYPM) work to implement this idea of cross-sector support within jurisdictions?

MS: Firstly, we work with communities to create a process where in which they can identify that a young person is involved in the second system of care at the earliest point possible. In most communities across the country, if a young person is in child welfare, and they get arrested and detained, the juvenile justice system or law enforcement generally has no knowledge that this young person is in foster care or is receiving services from child welfare, unless of course, they got arrested at like an RTC or at a group home.

Research tells us that youth involved with child welfare are detained at higher rates than young people who are not involved in the child welfare system. So, one of the first things that we do is work with communities to set up a mechanism where in which they can identify these young people at the earliest point possible. That notification can be provided immediately to their caseworker, parent/guardian, or whomever, to let them know this young person has been arrested or that they are the subject of a CPS complaint. For example, if a youth has been arrested and detained there is a court hearing that happens within 24-hours. This notification helps to ensure that somebody shows up at that detention hearing to represent this young person or be a support to them.  

Using this same pathway, if a young people is arrested and released, we work to ensure that whomever their custodian is knows that this has happened, and has the information about the upcoming court hearing or the detention intake appointment, or whatever that first appointment is. What can happen is if they don’t show up a warrant could be issued for their arrest (this practice various per jurisdiction). All that to say immediate identification is very important.

The proceeding work supports the development of a cross-systems collaborative case management process that flows the life of the case. This includes cases of youth that are placed on diversion or involved in a informal case in child welfare if consent if consent is provided.
So, that’s the thing that we do on the front end is make sure they’re identified and that if it’s a low-level crime and they are able to be given diversion, then they should be offered diversion. That shouldn’t be taken off the table for them. But, all of that occurs because youth are being identified and personnel are communicating. Generally, there’s a lack of communication across these systems. The model helps support [jurisdictions] throughout – not just the intake and assessment process, but throughout the life of the case.

As we work with jurisdictions and learn the various nuances to their system (or practice) we employ them to empower parents, advocate for families, and ensure direct services staff understand the nuances to their partner agencies. It’s very common that a child welfare worker doesn’t fully understand the juvenile justice system, and juvenile justice worker doesn’t fully understand the child welfare system. So staff often has unrealistic expectations for what their colleagues should be doing and what they have access to. That’s another part of what we do in this work too – we make sure that staff are educated about the partner organizations. This helps to manage expectations related to collaboration and supports cooperation.

When we conclude our work with a jurisdiction they have a coordinated case management process that integrates child welfare and juvenile justice with the goal of reducing the number of young people that are crossing over and maximizing the impact of services that the two systems are providing. To me, this model is just good social work. It’s not rocket science, it’s really just good social work, what you should be doing. But for a number of reasons, people just aren’t doing it, and some of it is just beyond the scope of their ability to do, given other systemic barriers that may exist.

ASCI: How does the CYPM work to prevent youth from becoming dually involved while meeting the needs of those who already are? 

MS: The CYPM primarily deals with a young person who has become dually involved with both systems. There’s an element of the model that focuses on prevention. Presently, we are shifting more of our work to move upstream to have as much of a focus on prevention as we do on dual involvement. One of the things that we work with communities on is identifying those things that exist within each system that can be made available to young people that do not require them to have an open case. For example, one of the things that we commonly see is a young person in a deep-end juvenile justice facility and the staff are challenged with keeping the family engaged during their placement. At the point of discharge child welfare is engaged to identify a placement for that youth because home is not an option.  In this instance, juvenile justice could’ve used the Family Finding technology that child welfare has to identify and engage other family members during that youth’s placement that could serve as some form of a resource while in care and upon release. These efforts could help ensure they have support while in the facility and have a transition plan upon exit. Even if the family members are not open to placement they can continue to be a support in other ways. This is an example of using system resources to prevent crossover from one system to the other or prevent deeper system penetration.

Another example using child welfare as the starting system is of a young person exhibiting behavioral challenges that are creating challenges with finding a stable placement. This may include actions such as hanging out with negative peer groups, running away or chronic absenteeism. The juvenile justice system may have a service or supports that focus on these delinquency risk factors. Therefore, them making slots available to child welfare youth could help mitigate the risk level for this youth and prevent them from crossing over to juvenile justice. These are examples of how sharing resources can aid in preventing youth from crossing over in either direction.  

These examples are the kind of things we try to work with communities on to understand what the needs are for those young people who are at risk, and then we determine what services or support their partner agency has that can be made available to young people. That also includes bringing in behavioral health and other community resources. One thing we have been hearing for years is that many communities lack quality behavioral health providers. So part of what we challenge communities to address is the quality of the services that they’re providing young people and being okay with saying, ‘Your service is not good. What can we do to help make it?’ Because the reality is sometimes we are referring clients to providers, but the clients aren’t doing well and we keep referring clients there. So while it’s not a direct component of the Model, it’s a by-product of the work because the quality of service impacts outcomes.

ASCI: You mentioned the importance of implementing family-finding when youth come into contact with the juvenile justice system. How do you think prioritizing kinship placements can help reduce the number of at-risk crossover youth?

MS: I think it goes without saying, young people being placed with families is always the better option. The challenge is that historically, kin caregivers have not been given any of the resources or supports that a traditional or therapeutic foster family gets. Many jurisdictions are trying to narrow those differences but that is a huge issue. What the research tells us regarding crossover youth is that kin are going to stay the course much longer than a traditional foster family, but when they burn out they’re done.

We know that young people are going to fare better when they’re placed with family. Another thing to consider is that if family, or other kin are not willing or able to be a placement resource, their involvement/connection to the youth can be realized in other ways. They may be willing to pick the youth from school and have them come over a few days a week, spend holidays at their home, etc. It should be an all or nothing relationship that we establish with a youth’s kin.

ASCI: How does the CYPM work to reduce the disproportionate number of BIPOC crossover youth?

MS: In the CYPM, we work with jurisdictions to collect decision point data to do a number of things but determining if there is disproportionate representation of youth of color is one of them. What we know is that while DMC exist in child welfare and juvenile justice its exponentially higher for crossover youth. IWhat we haven’t figured out is how we change that. There are number of different new programs that deal with engagement in community supports on the front end that we hope to learn from but as of today no answers exist.

Another thing we see is a high proportion of girls that cross over and are detained, when compared to their male counterparts. So, we are working with a few communities to try and understand in practice why these disparities exists. But we have not gotten to a place where we can say, here’s what you should be doing differently that varies from the recommendations that all the other national projects have given. Again this is something we are working through a couple of jurisdictions.

These components to the work are areas we encourage communities to look at through data and in practice. This also includes addressing the needs of LGBTQ-GNCT youth.. Right now, one of the communities has a separate body of work that deals with racial and ethnic disparities, and the experiences of LGBTQ-GNCT youth. The research tells us that a large percentage of young people who are crossing over identify as being LGBTQ when compared to their heterosexual counterparts. So we’re working with a community now to dig deeper into their data to try to understand what that looks like. What does it mean? What is the variance in practice that should be happening? But we have not gotten far in that regard. However, it’s something that we’re looking at and trying to work through.

This Q&A was originally featured in the National Kinship Review.

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The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of A Second Chance, Inc.

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