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  2. Juvenile Justice

Juvenile Justice

Runaway and homeless youth have higher rates of involvement with the juvenile justice system1 including higher rates of misdemeanor charges and gang affiliation.2 According to a study of runaway and homeless youth in the Midwest, over half had been arrested at least one time since they first ran away, with many arrested multiple times.3 They may engage in delinquent acts such as stealing, selling drugs, and prostitution as strategies for survival.4 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, and conduct disorders) have been found to be more likely to be involved in these delinquent behaviors and subsequent arrest(s).5 In addition, many homeless youth have been involved in the juvenile justice system.6

When young people leave residential juvenile justice placements, they face many challenges as they reenter the community, home, and school/work force. 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. Further, they can face policies that may prohibit convicted offenders from living in Section 8 housing.7 These barriers may create situations where youth return to the street at release. In these cases, there is a strong chance they will become involved in the same behaviors that initially led to arrest.8 Learn more about how planning for reentry when a youth enters the juvenile justice system can increase success, and about the federal programs that support homeless and runaway youth to keep them from returning to the streets and continuing the cycle of homelessness and delinquency.


1 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2008; Kaufman & Windom, 1999
2 Thompson & Pollio, 2006
3 Chen, Thrane, Whitbeck, & Johnson, 2006
4 Whitbeck & Simmons, 1993
5 Whitbeck & Simmons, 1993; Chen, Thrane, Whitbeck, & Johnson, 2006
6 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2008
7 Altschuler & Brash, 2004; HUD, 2012
8 Toro, Dworsky, & Fowler, 2007

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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

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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).