Kids can be referred to court for status offenses by their schools, law enforcement, social workers, probation officers, or even their own families. But, states govern when and how formal petitions (applications for the court to take formal action on a matter) for such cases can be made, and sometimes the path to court can be quick. For example, Wisconsin defines habitual truancy as missing all or “part of” five days within a semester. Because school districts have discretion to define what “part of a school day” means, a student can be sent to court for as little as being late to class five times.[] Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI), Answers to Frequently Asked Compulsory School Attendance Questions (Madison, WI: DPI, 2016),

In 2014, there were 100,100 cases nationally in which kids were sent to court for status offenses, accounting for one of every 11 formally processed juvenile court cases that year.[] Sarah Hockenberry and Charles Puzzenchera, 2014,  In reality, however, these figures significantly underestimate juvenile justice system involvement due to misbehavior. To start, there is large variation in the types of courts that handle these cases nationwide. Some courts focus exclusively on status offenses (such as truancy courts), but kids may also be seen in family, delinquency, or even municipal courts (city or county courts that handle low-level adult cases) for these behaviors. In this fragmented system, many courts do not report to a central state or federal repository, making it difficult to tally the total amount of status offense cases nationwide.[] Texas Appleseed, Criminalization of Truancy in Texas: Prosecution of “Failure to Attend School” in Adult Criminal Courts (Austin: Texas Appleseed),  The numbers also do not account for the many cases in which kids who are already justice system-involved are sent back to court for misbehaving while under probation supervision. 

Sorc Tracking Status Offenses Infographic1B
In 2014, status offenses accounted for roughly one of every 11 juvenile court cases. This is likely an underestimate.

Contrary to federal guidance, these referrals can result in a range of disruptive consequences for kids and their families, including detention and out-of-home placement. Since 1974, the federal government’s Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) has outlined protections for kids and families in the juvenile and criminal courts.[] Act4Justice, “What is the JJDPA?”,  Recognizing the harms of confinement and system involvement on kids who misbehave (more in "Why criminalization is not the answer"), the JJDPA mandates that kids charged with status offenses be handled via less restrictive, community-based programs and not be put in locked facilities.[] Kristin M. Finklea, Juvenile Justice: Legislative History and Current Legislative Issues (Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, 2012),  However, a 1980 amendment added the Valid Court Order (VCO) exception, which provides judges with a potent workaround to this rule: although kids cannot be detained for, say, skipping school, they can be detained for violating a judge’s order to attend school every day.[] Act4Justice, “Fact Sheet: Deinstitutionalization of Status Offenses Core Protection,”  As of 2011 (the last year of available data), 27 states used the VCO exception, and thousands of kids are still removed from their homes to be put in detention and out-of-home placements each year.[] Coalition for Juvenile Justice, SOS Project, “Fact Sheet: Use of Valid Court Order: State-by-State Comparisons,”

Misbehaving while under probation supervision

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