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.
Runaway youth and youth experiencing homelessness have higher rates of involvement with the juvenile justice system than their peers,1 including higher rates of misdemeanor charges and gang affiliation.2 According to a study of runaway youth and youth experiencing homelessness in the Midwest, over half had been arrested at least one time since they first ran away, with many arrested multiple times.3 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 have had at least one interaction with the police at some point in their life, and nearly 62 percent had been arrested at least once. 4
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 that there is an acute need for screening and trauma-informed supports and services for youth impacted by homelessness who may be at risk of delinquency.5 Providing relevant and trauma-informed services to this population could play a significant role in mitigating their likelihood of contact with the juvenile justice system and could have considerable positive impacts on the lives and outcomes of youth experiencing homelessness.
They 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.6 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), suggesting that a small percentage of delinquent behavior among homeless youth may be an attempt to feed addictions that have developed.7 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/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 individuals with certain criminal records from living in Section 8 housing.8 These barriers may create situations where youth return to the street upon release. In these cases, there is a strong chance they will become involved in the same behaviors that initially led to arrest. 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 youth experiencing homelessness and runaway youth to keep them from returning to the streets and continuing the cycle of homelessness and delinquency.
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, specific services that are 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 SAMHSA’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. This 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 non-federal 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)
This website serves as an information hub, technical assistance center, 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 juveniles are entitled to both within the system and at school. The guide includes a roadmap of juvenile detention to school re-enrollment, a re-enrollment 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 both while they are still in a juvenile correctional facility and well after. The guide is organized into two sections: planning for reentry while in placement and successful reentry into your community. Included are descriptions regarding common barriers 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-exist supports for formerly incarcerated youth. The brief 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.
1 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2008; U. S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, 2019; Coalition for Juvenile Justice, 2016
2 Thompson & Pollio, 2006
3 Chen, Thrane, Whitbeck, & Johnson, 2006
4 Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Family and Youth Services Bureau, 2016; Coalition for Juvenile Justice, 2016
5 Yoder et al., 2014
6 Whitbeck & Simmons, 1993; Yoder et al., 2014
7 Chen, Thrane, Whitbeck, & Johnson, 2006; Yoder et al., 2014
8 Altschuler & Brash, 2004; U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 2012
Other Resources on this Topic
Over the course of 6 months, approximately 10% of juvenile detainees thought about suicide, and 11% had attempted suicide.