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Foster Children and Juvenile Justice Involvement: An Introduction to the Issues
By Ashaad Hipps, MSW, LMSW, CYMHS

When child welfare was formed, Black families were excluded due to racial discrimination. Since that time, the number of Black youth involved in child welfare has elevated to disproportionate rates.1 Black families are more likely to be investigated by the child welfare system than are white or nonminority families.2 Black youth have a heightened risk of being involved with foster care and have longer reunification times than other ethnic groups.2,3 In the United States, it’s well established that disadvantaged youth are overrepresented in foster care. An estimated 30% of those youth are involved with the juvenile justice system due to criminal behavior.4 These youth are referred to as “crossover youth” and frequently come from disadvantaged families. The poverty and maltreatment experienced by these youth during their childhood increased the probability of juvenile justice involvement.4

Youth involved in both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems are more at risk for poor school performance. This is a noteworthy issue because it significantly affects the lives of minority youth. Poor academic performance increases the chances of juvenile justice involvement.5 When compared with their white peers, minority children in the child welfare system have more poor academic performances.5

Call for Action
The racial oppression that continues to be prevalent in juvenile justice and child welfare systems continues to have an impact on “crossover youth.”6 Foster children involved with juvenile justice are less likely to receive probation and are more likely to receive a placement in a detention center than are noncrossover youth.6 Bias amongst child welfare workers influences the length of stay for minority youth in foster care, which raises the chances for Black foster youth to engage in delinquent behaviors.6 These youth engage in delinquent behaviors because they lack positive attachments due to frequent placement disruptions and placement in group homes.6 The child welfare and the juvenile justice systems are viewed by Black families as a punishment for experiencing poverty.1 The child welfare system was supposed to be a protective factor for children who experience maltreatment at the hands of their families or other caregivers. Instead, the system is being used as a surveillance tool that punishes minority families who live in poverty. So often, youth in foster care are separated from their families and held in care for long periods of time, leaving them vulnerable to engagement with gangs and other delinquent groups.

In order to fix the disproportionality within these systems, it’s necessary to address the systemic racism upon which these systems were built. There needs to be more education surrounding implicit bias for child welfare workers and more cultural competence training to prevent bias from determining a child’s length of stay or involvement with child welfare. In addition to these changes, there also needs to be more attention given to the academic performance of “crossover youth.” These youth need to be encouraged to do well academically and to engage in extracurricular activities to prevent them from engaging in delinquent behaviors. Social workers, legislators, and policymakers need to focus on correcting the disproportionality within these systems instead of perpetuating and upholding the systemic racism that maintains the issue.

— Ashaad Hipps, MSW, LMSW, CYMHS, is a therapist in an acute behavioral health hospital and a Doctor of Social Work candidate at the University of Kentucky. He also works part-time as an instructor in the Master of Social Work program at the University of Kentucky and as a psychotherapist working with children and adolescents with anxiety, depression, anger management issues, and low self-esteem.


1. Williams-Butler A. Reducing delinquency among African American youth in foster care: does gender make a difference in crossover prevention? Child Youth Serv Rev. 2018;94:563-571.

2. Jantz I, Rolock N, Leathers SJ, Dettlaff AJ, Gleeson JP. Substitute care entry: the relationship between race or ethnicity and levels of county organization. Child Abuse Negl. 2012;36(11-12):771-781.

3. Pryce J, Lee W, Crowe E, Park D, McCarthy M, Owens G. A case study in public child welfare: county-level practices that address racial disparity in foster care placement. J Public Child Welf. 2019;13(1):35-59.

4.Vidal S, Prince D, Connell CM, Caron CM, Kaufman JS, Tebes JK. Maltreatment, family environment, and social risk factors: determinants of the child welfare to juvenile justice transition among maltreated children and adolescents. Child Abuse Negl. 2017;63:7-18.

5. Yoon S, Quinn CR, McCarthy KS, Robertson AA. The effects of child protective services and juvenile justice system on academic outcomes: gender and racial differences. Youth Soc. 2021;53(1):131-152.

6. Marshall J, Haight W. Understanding racial disproportionality affecting African American youth who cross over from the child welfare to the juvenile justice system: communication, power, race and social class. Child Youth Serv Rev. 2014;42:82-90.