Keeping “Misbehaving” Kids Out of Court: New Website Provides Tools for Status Offense Reform

NEW YORK, NY (December 13, 2013) – States and localities are increasingly looking for strategies to safely and cost-effectively divert young people away from the justice system. Perhaps nowhere is this more necessary than in the response to young people charged with status offenses—behaviors such as skipping school, running away from home, and other activities that are not criminal in nature and only prohibited due to their ages.

These cases too often end up in courtrooms and can lead to disproportionately punitive sanctions that do more harm than good, like detention or placement in a residential facility. In 2010, approximately 137,000 status offense cases were handled by the courts. In more than 36 percent (nearly 50,000) of those cases, the most serious allegation was truancy.

To provide policymakers and practitioners with the guidance and resources needed to reform existing practices, Vera’s Center on Youth Justice today launched the online Status Offense Reform Center (SORC). SORC is part of the MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change Resource Center Partnership. Today’s launch continues an effort by Vera and MacArthur to raise awareness about status offenders and other juvenile justice issues that began this week with the release of From Courts to Communities: The Right Response to Truancy, Running Away, and Other Status Offenses.

SORC is a one-stop shop providing “virtual” technical assistance based on Vera’s 13 years of experience working on status offense reform. This hands-on help has been translated into an online toolkit and other resources to help communities plan, implement, and sustain comprehensive system change. In addition to the toolkit, the website features case studies from jurisdictions across the country; hosts webinars, podcasts, and a blog exploring the latest research and lessons learned from the field; and fields requests for additional information.

“States and communities across the country are seeing the benefits of status offense reform in reduced family court caseloads, lower government costs, and meaningful and lasting support to children and families,” said Annie Salsich, director of Vera’s Center on Youth Justice. “We believe that the SORC website will be an invaluable resource to those looking to enact meaningful change.”

The center’s toolkit is broken down into four modules that provide a blueprint for creating awareness of status offenses, engaging and organizing stakeholders, and driving reform. Modules one and two are currently available; modules three and four will be launched next year.

  • Module One: Structuring System Change helps to lay the foundation for productive engagement with stakeholders that leads to action and meaningful system change. Given the complex and often fragmented nature of status offense systems, this module helps determine who should be involved in the change process, how to engage them, and what information they need.
  • Module Two: Using Local Information to Guide System Change explains how stakeholders spearheading reform can assess their current system with a data-driven planning effort that is attuned to the unique strengths and needs of their jurisdiction.
  • Module Three: Planning and Implementing System Change will illustrate how to use the information gathered through the system assessment, along with best practice insights from across the country, to develop and implement a well-informed plan for system change that fosters sustainability and continual learning.
  • Module Four: Monitoring and Sustaining System Change will provide advice on monitoring whether the reform plan is being implemented as designed, measuring whether the changes are leading to improved system outcomes, and modifying as needed.

About the Models for Change Resource Center Partnership

The Resource Center Partnership works to advance juvenile justice systems reform across the country by providing state and local leaders, practitioners, and policymakers with technical assistance, training, and the proven tools, resources, and lessons developed through the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change: Systems Reform in Juvenile Justice Initiative.

SORC is one of four complementary, connected resource centers that make up the Resource Center Partnership and tackle juvenile justice issues, including:

The Resource Center Partnership also includes a strategic alliance of national experts and organizations representing state leaders, mayors, judges, law enforcement, prosecutors, corrections professionals, court personnel, and justice reform advocates. These partners further enrich the tools, best practices, and training offered by the Centers and provide direct connections to professionals working in juvenile justice.

Visit the Models for Change Resource Center Partnership for more information.