Methods: The universe of youth included in this analysis consists of all youth in Los Angeles County Probation in Los Angeles in 2014-2016 (N=7,896). The data were restricted to youth born in or after 1998 given that child welfare records were unavailable prior to that year (N=6,170). The identified youths were linked to the state’s child welfare records between 1998 and 2017 using a probabilistic, machine learning linkage program called ChoiceMaker. This linkage allowed us to any dual system involvement. The demographic and case characteristics of all youths were examined descriptively and using χ2 tests.
Results: The findings that have emerged from the study show that among youth with a first juvenile delinquency petition in Los Angeles County, approximately two-thirds of those youth were dual system—i.e., they touched both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems at some point in their lives. Youth with dual system involvement were observed to interact with those two systems through significantly different pathways. χ2 tests document that levels of child welfare involvement varies significantly across gender and race/ethnicity (p<.001). Dual system youth are overwhelmingly more likely to have touched child welfare before having contact with the juvenile justice system. Nearly half of dual system youth in Los Angeles County touched the child welfare and juvenile justice systems at different times, rather than concurrently. One-third of dual system youth had an early (non-concurrent) contact with child welfare and a later concurrent juvenile justice and child welfare involvement. Finally, nearly three-fourths of girls with a Probation petition were dual-system.
Conclusions and Implications: The findings identified the extent to which youth in the juvenile justice system touched the child protection system, documented pathways taken by youth across systems, and highlight possible touch points for prevention from the time a child/youth enters child protective services. These studies highlighted that girls were the group at greatest risk for dual-system involvement. The findings provide insight into how system practices can be modified to prevent or reduce the likelihood of dual system involvement and make a convincing case for a more holistic approach to delinquency prevention starting with supports for families with very young children in the community and services for those who enter the child protective system, continuing throughout their involvement with the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.