Other Youth Topics

Juvenile Justice

Runaway youth and youth experiencing homelessness have higher rates of involvement with the juvenile justice system compared with their peers. In one study, researchers found that among runaway youth and youth experiencing homelessness in 11 U.S. cities, nearly 44 percent had stayed in a jail, prison, or juvenile detention center; 78 percent had at least one interaction with the police at some point in their life; and nearly 62 percent had been arrested at least once.1

This correlation between homelessness and juvenile justice involvement is particularly strong for youth experiencing homelessness who have been physically abused. Youth experiencing homelessness with a history of physical abuse are nearly twice as likely than non-abused youth to be arrested and detained, suggesting an acute need for screening and trauma-informed supports and services for youth impacted by homelessness who may be at risk of delinquency.2 Prevention policies such as housing assistance, trauma-informed services, and substance use counseling could play a significant role in mitigating young people at risk of or experiencing homelessness’s likelihood of contact with the juvenile justice system and could have considerable positive impacts on their lives and future outcomes.

These youth may engage in delinquent acts such as stealing, selling drugs, and prostitution as strategies for survival, and these behaviors often serve as the initial point of contact with the justice system.3 Youth who have run away multiple times, who ran away at an early age, and who have experienced externalizing behavioral disorders (e.g., drug abuse, alcohol abuse, conduct disorders) are more likely to be involved in these delinquent behaviors and subsequent arrest(s), suggesting that a small percentage of delinquent behavior among homeless youth may be an attempt to feed addictions that have developed. These findings again point to the need for accessible trauma-informed services that center mental, intellectual, and behavioral disorders as well as substance use/misuse treatment for youth experiencing homelessness. Providing runaway youth and youth experiencing homelessness with such services can address root causes and risk factors for heightened juvenile justice involvement among this population.

When young people leave residential juvenile justice placements, they face many challenges as they reenter the community, home, and school/workforce. Youth may return to unstable home settings, face a lack of family support, struggle to remain in school, lack the skills needed for employment, and experience a gap in behavioral health services. These barriers may create situations such that youth return to the street upon release. In these cases, a strong chance exists that they will become involved in the same behaviors that initially led to arrest. Learn how planning for reentry when a youth enters the juvenile justice system can increase success, and about the federal programs that support youth experiencing homelessness and runaway youth to keep them from returning to the streets and continuing the cycle of homelessness and delinquency.

Prevention efforts may include the following:

  • Juvenile probation officers, social workers, and others supporting youth who have come into contact with the juvenile justice system should refer families and youth to local school district homeless liaisons if they suspect they may be experiencing homelessness or housing instability.
  • Facility staff should refer youth and families if they suspect that a youth may be released into a homeless situation or that the youth is returning to a family experiencing housing instability.
  • A research brief from the National Technical Assistance Center for the Education of Youth Who Are Neglected, Delinquent, or At-Risk (NDTAC), Supporting Students Experiencing Homelessness Involved in the Criminal Justice System, and the accompanying webinar are a resource for this population.


Family Interventions for Youth Experiencing or At Risk of Homelessness
This website offers a compilation of resources for youth experiencing or at risk of homelessness and their families. The page highlights evidence-based program interventions for this population as well as promising emerging interventions.

Runaway & Homeless Youth Program
This program provides a variety of services to runaway and homeless youth, including but not limited to street outreach, emergency shelters, and long-term maternity group homes for pregnant and parenting youth. This webpage offers information on the program initiatives, offers specific services included within each program area, and provides additional related resources for runaway and homeless youth across the nation.

Concept of Trauma and Guidance for a Trauma-Informed Approach (PDF, 27 pages)
This paper introduces the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s concept of trauma and offers a framework for how an organization, system, or service sector can become trauma informed by integrating the perspectives of researchers, practitioners, and people with experience of trauma.

Understanding Child Trauma
This infographic provides key statistics and information to help the public recognize the signs of child traumatic stress. The infographic can be downloaded as a whole or by the three key subject areas and is available in English and Spanish.

Child Abuse and Neglect Resources
This website shares resources, publications, and data sources on child abuse and neglect, including federal and nonfederal resources for the public, interested community members, and practitioners.

National Technical Assistance Center for the Education of Youth Who Are Neglected, Delinquent, or At-Risk (NDTAC)
The National Technical Assistance Center for the Education of Youth Who Are Neglected, Delinquent, or At-Risk (NDTAC) website serves as an information hub, a technical assistance center, a resource for program evaluation and data reporting, and a facilitator of information and peer-to-peer learning in relation to educational programming for youth who are neglected, delinquent, or at risk of entering the juvenile justice system. Users can access webinars and conferences on the site and explore resources for parents, families, and service providers for neglected or delinquent youth.

You Got This! Educational Pathways for Youth Transitioning from Juvenile Justice Facilities (PDF, 12 pages)
This guide offers youth who are transitioning from the juvenile justice system back into their communities and schools with a framework of tips and resources. It informs youth and professionals working closely with incarcerated youth of the rights that juveniles are entitled to both within the system and at school. The guide includes a roadmap of juvenile detention to school reenrollment, a reenrollment checklist, community resources and organizations, a student bill of rights, and more.

Reentry Starts Here: A Guide for Youth in Long-Term Juvenile Corrections and Treatment Programs (PDF, 36 pages)
This youth-centered toolkit equips incarcerated minors with a guide on what to expect upon reentry and what footwork they should be doing while they are still in a juvenile correctional facility and well after. The guide has into two sections: (a) planning for reentry while in placement and (b) successful reentry into your community. Included are descriptions regarding common barriers that youth may encounter upon reentry as well as tools and action steps to help them overcome those barriers.

Making the Right Turn: A Research Update on Evidence-Based and Promising Post-Exit Supports for Formerly Incarcerated Youth (PDF, 28 pages)
This research brief describes evidence-based and promising post-exit supports for formerly incarcerated youth. It describes support approaches to be implemented by practitioners dealing with newly released youth and their families at the following levels: school-based preparatory experiences, career preparation and work-based learning experiences, youth development and leadership opportunities, connecting activities (supporting and community services), and family involvement and supports.


Other Resources on this Topic


Youth Briefs

How Individualized Education Program (IEP) Transition Planning Makes a Difference for Youth with Disabilities

Youth who receive special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004) and especially young adults of transition age, should be involved in planning for life after high school as early as possible and no later than age 16. Transition services should stem from the individual youth’s needs and strengths, ensuring that planning takes into account his or her interests, preferences, and desires for the future.

Youth Transitioning to Adulthood: How Holding Early Leadership Positions Can Make a Difference

Research links early leadership with increased self-efficacy and suggests that leadership can help youth to develop decision making and interpersonal skills that support successes in the workforce and adulthood. In addition, young leaders tend to be more involved in their communities, and have lower dropout rates than their peers. Youth leaders also show considerable benefits for their communities, providing valuable insight into the needs and interests of young people

How Trained Service Professionals and Self-Advocacy Makes a Difference for Youth with Mental Health, Substance Abuse, or Co-occurring Issues

Statistics reflecting the number of youth suffering from mental health, substance abuse, and co-occurring disorders highlight the necessity for schools, families, support staff, and communities to work together to develop targeted, coordinated, and comprehensive transition plans for young people with a history of mental health needs and/or substance abuse.

Young Adults Formerly in Foster Care: Challenges and Solutions

Nearly 30,000 youth aged out of foster care in Fiscal Year 2009, which represents nine percent of the young people involved in the foster care system that year. This transition can be challenging for youth, especially youth who have grown up in the child welfare system.

Coordinating Systems to Support Transition Age Youth with Mental Health Needs

Research has demonstrated that as many as one in five children/youth have a diagnosable mental health disorder. Read about how coordination between public service agencies can improve treatment for these youth.

Civic Engagement Strategies for Transition Age Youth

Civic engagement has the potential to empower young adults, increase their self-determination, and give them the skills and self-confidence they need to enter the workforce. Read about one youth’s experience in AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC).

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