Can “Crossing Over” Be Prevented?

In my last post, I highlighted the work of Shay Bilchik, a tireless pioneer who has devoted his life’s work to forging pathways to improve outcomes for at-risk youth and their families. A focus area of Mr. Bilchik’s work is the population of children known as “crossover youth,” young people who are involved in both the child welfare and the juvenile justice systems and who require a more precise and complex intervention to redirect their future than those who are involved singly in one system or the other. Mr. Bilchik and other forerunners in the field have collaborated on a model called the Crossover Youth Practice Model (CYPM), a template for standards of practice that can be integrated for—and by—the courts, social workers, and probation officers working together in partnership with families on a daily, practical basis to improve outcomes for these youth.

The question is: can “crossing over” be prevented before intervention is required?

Each child identified as crossover youth has his or her own story—most often a very difficult one that is marked by trauma. In general, and in common, they have likely been exposed to persistent maltreatment in the form of abuse and neglect, and they have engaged in–or are at risk of engaging–in delinquent behavior, sometimes, though not always, leading them to the juvenile court system.

Much research has been done on the impact of abuse and neglect and how trauma affects future behavior. Not every child who is subjected to maltreatment goes on to commit delinquency. Detailed studies show that the top risk factors for predicting criminal behavior in youth are: 1) They have likely been exposed to and been the victims of physical violence; 2) The abuse is likely to have been compounded and severe; and 3) they have been the victims of neglect over a long period of time. In addition, when youth are placed out of home, the types of placement can make a difference in future behavior. For example, those who live in group homes (as opposed to a family like setting) appear to be more likely to engage in criminal behavior and to become involved with the juvenile justice system.

By recognizing these risk factors early on, it is possible that those involved in the child welfare system will be able to identify many of the youth who are at risk of crossing over before they get to the juvenile justice system. But that work means introducing a systemic change that transcends current politics, policies, and practices and calls on tangible and intangible forces to work together.

I believe crossing over can be prevented. I believe that the Crossover Youth Practice Model and the work of Shay Bilchik and many others in the juvenile justice and child welfare arenas lays out principles, evidence-based procedures, and ways to assure quality of care that will lead to prevention of crossing over.  By intervening early on, by holding fast to the principles of striving for normalcy for children and families on a daily basis, and by continuing to implement precise interventions along the way, we can make huge strides in preventing youth from crossing over and thereby creating a better future for them and for their families. I believe it is possible.

What do you think?

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