Sen. Gary Peters (D–Mich.) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R–Iowa) reintroduced a bipartisan bill last Thursday which would provide support for children on welfare who also face the juvenile justice system.

The act, coined the Childhood Outcomes Need New Efficient Community Teams Act, would provide competitive grants to improve communication and collaboration between state agencies responsible for child welfare and juvenile justice systems. The CONNECT Act would also require state agencies to improve data collection on young people who come into contact with child welfare and juvenile justice systems — known as dual-status youth — in order to better assist them. If the bill is implemented, these grants will come from the Department of Health and Human Services.

Dual-status children tend to have a history of trauma, substance abuse and mental health issues, according to a press release.

In the press release, Peters stressed understanding the dual-status youth’s background leads to more productive outcomes within the child welfare and juvenile justice systems for the kids.

“Too many children are at risk of falling through the cracks because unnecessary barriers prevent the juvenile justice and child welfare systems from giving children the services they need,” Peters said. “The more we know about dual status youth, the more we can do to ensure programs are available to support our most vulnerable children and give them a better chance at success. This bipartisan bill will help states collect information and tailor programs that will help at-risk youth lead happy, fruitful lives.”

According to the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency, 55 percent of U.S. children going through the juvenile justice system have also made contact with child welfare in some form. In Michigan alone, approximately 41,600 children were in foster care and 40,600 children had at least one formal juvenile delinquency petition from 2009 to 2015.

In Iowa, 33,520 children were in foster care and 19,381 children had at least one formal juvenile delinquency petition from 2009 to 2015. A juvenile delinquency petition occurs when a child under the age of 18 is referred to juvenile court.

University students such as Public Policy junior Lauren Schandevel, who is also a Daily columnist, found benefits in the bill, highlighting the importance of this bill for children lacking financial and educational resources.

“I hope this legislation will help alleviate at least some of the barriers children — particularly children coming from poverty — encounter in the juvenile justice system,” Schandevel said.

Grassley emphasized in the press release communication among agencies is vital to improve dual-status youth outcomes, and this bill aims to minimize the obstacles that make this coordination difficult.

“Youth involved in both the foster care and juvenile systems shouldn’t face additional challenges because of lack of coordination,” Grassley said. “Too often, federal and state agencies don’t interact enough. Child welfare and juvenile justice experts need to work together to keep vulnerable youth safe, off the streets, and away from crime. Our bill encourages state and local agencies to work as a team to develop best practices and better policies to help at-risk youth and help them succeed in life.”

The act was first introduced in July 2016. According to Congress's website, the bill was read twice on July 13, 2016 and referred to the Committee on Finance. The Senate did not have enough time to take action on the bill last year.

In an email interview, Allison Green, press secretary for Peters, explained the importance of reintroducing the act to Congress. She emphasized the two senators’ dedication to the passing of this bill.

“Since it is so important to help support these at-risk children, the Senators reintroduced their legislation this Congress, and Senator Peters will be working to continue building support for the bill among his colleagues,” Green wrote.

 

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