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Is There a Link between Child Welfare and Disproportionate Minority Contact in Juvenile Justice?

NCJ Number
Joseph Ryan; Yu-Ling Chiu; Abigail Williams
Date Published
December 2011
4 pages
This study determined whether the population of youth moving between the child-welfare and juvenile justice systems contributes to disproportionate minority contact (DMC) with the juvenile justice system.
The study was significantly linked to DMC in the juvenile justice system. An analysis of 10 years of relevant data from Illinois shows that involvement in the child welfare system more than doubled the risk of a formal delinquency petition. Since youth coming to the juvenile justice system from child welfare were disproportionately likely to be African-American, this leads to DMC in the juvenile justice system. African-Americans compose approximately 15 percent of the U.S. population, yet they account for 25 percent of child-protection investigations, and 36 percent of children placed into out-of-home care, according to a 2007 report from the U.S. General Accountability Office. These findings should not be interpreted as blaming the child welfare system for DMC in the juvenile justice system, but that it is a significant pathway for African-American youths who come into contact with the juvenile justice system. Child welfare and juvenile justice systems should begin collaborating so as to ensure equal opportunities for youths at the point of judicial disposition. Youths should not be at greater risk of experiencing formal processing because they have an open case with a child-protection agency. Considering the consequences of formal processing and placement, a focus on eliminating dispositional bias should have high priority. The study examined official Illinois data on arrests occurring between January 1, 2001, and June 30, 2009. The study focused on the percentage of youth who are African-American at the county level in detention, on probation, and in child welfare placements. 4 figures