Our audit concerning youth who are involved in both the child welfare system and the juvenile justice system (dually involved youth) highlighted the following:
- Since 2005 State agencies have provided limited guidance to county agencies related to tracking dually involved youth and cannot monitor the outcomes for this population statewide.
- Counties use their own discretion in determining the degree to which they track the population and outcomes of these youth.
- The outcomes counties track are likely not comparable, and therefore, it is difficult to measure the success of their efforts.
- To facilitate county tracking of dually involved youth, the State could require the California Department of Social Services to improve its statewide case management system's functionality.
- Five of the six counties we reviewed could not accurately identify the total number of youth they had declared as dually involved from January 2012 through December 2014—most of the counties use their own data systems for identifying this population which contain inaccurate or incomplete data.
- In reviewing the case files of 166 youth, we found that:
- Youth in dual status counties received more continuity of services from social workers and dependency attorneys than did the youth in nondual status counties.
- Counties provided little in the way of continuity of court appointed special advocates.
Results in Brief
State-level agencies have provided limited guidance to county agencies regarding youth who are involved in both the child welfare system and the juvenile justice system (dually involved youth) because state law does not require them to do so. As a result, counties have used their own discretion in determining the degree to which they track the population and outcomes of these youth. While the State does not mandate such tracking, best practice models recommend collecting data and tracking outcomes. Since January 2005 state law grants counties the option of developing local dual status protocols that designate certain youth as both dependents and wards of the court in order to maximize support for these children. Depending on the county in which they live, when youth who are already dependents of the court are adjudicated wards of the court, they may either have their dependency case closed (crossover youth) or fall under the jurisdiction of both dependency and delinquency simultaneously (dual status youth). Previously, state law required counties to terminate the dependency cases of youth in the child welfare system who were declared wards of the court, thus placing these youth within the sole jurisdiction of the counties' probation agencies. Before the law changed, California was one of only two states in the nation that did not use some form of dual status. As of February 2016 the Judicial Council reports that 18 counties have adopted dual status protocols. Six of these counties have populations greater than 1 million—the counties of Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and Santa Clara. Collectively, these 18 counties represent 67 percent of the State's population.
Since the initial implementation of dual status protocols in 2005, state agencies have provided the counties with only limited guidance related to tracking dually involved youth. Specifically, the State has not defined key terms or established outcomes to track related to dually involved youth, thus it cannot monitor the outcomes for this population statewide. For example, our review of three counties that adopted dual status protocols (dual status counties)—Los Angeles, Riverside, and Santa Clara—and three nondual status counties—Alameda, Kern, and Sacramento—revealed that the six counties had different definitions for recidivism. Some counties define recidivism based on the period when the subsequent offense occurs as well as the severity of the offense. Specifically, counties' various definitions of the recidivism period included the youth's probationary period, the six-month period following disposition, the six‑month period following the termination of the youth's probation, and the three-year period following the youth's first entry into probation.1 County definitions of recidivism events also differ, as some counties consider new sustained violations of probation as recidivism while others include only new citations and arrests. Until the State establishes standard definitions, the outcomes counties decide to track are unlikely to be comparable, making it difficult to determine the success of county efforts.
State law initially required the Judicial Council of California (Judicial Council), which is responsible for creating rules of court that litigants in juvenile court must follow, to collect data and prepare an evaluation of the counties' implementation of dual status protocols. However, this data collection requirement only applied to the two years following the State's first dual status case in 2005. The Judicial Council completed its evaluation and published its findings in a 2007 report. The report concluded that at the time of the study, counties were still in the formative stages of implementing their dual status protocols and that the Judicial Council could not yet assess the outcomes of dual status cases. Currently, counties are no longer required to submit their protocols to the Judicial Council, and the Judicial Council is no longer required to review them. Thus, the Judicial Council is no longer required to assess whether counties have appropriately addressed the need for data collection within their dual status protocols. Nevertheless, the Judicial Council established, by rule of court, a Family and Juvenile Law Advisory Committee (committee) that makes recommendations for improving the administration of justice in all cases involving marriage, family, or children, including issues specific to dually involved youth. Therefore, we believe that the Judicial Council is best positioned to facilitate discussions between state and county-level stakeholders.
In order to facilitate county tracking of dually involved youth, the State could require the California Department of Social Services (Social Services) to improve the functionality of the State's Child Welfare Services/Case Management System (statewide case management system). Various national best practice models suggest that agencies start by designing and implementing uniform data collection and reporting systems, identifying their population of dually involved youth, and then beginning to track certain attributes and outcomes. Social Services provided county child welfare service (CWS) agencies with some guidance pertaining to dually involved youth in 2006, stating that it would provide instructions at a later date on documenting dual status cases within the statewide case management system. Although Social Services updated the system in 2010 to allow probation agencies to access the statewide case management system, it never provided instructions for documenting dual status cases. According to Social Services' Permanency Policy Bureau Chief (bureau chief), Social Services can improve the functionality of the statewide case management system to facilitate the identification of dually involved youth statewide. However, the bureau chief told us that for Social Services to implement such a change to the statewide case management system, the Legislature must sanction the change and reimburse counties for any increase in mandated county workload. Nevertheless, because county staff already use the statewide case management system to manage certain aspects of their cases, we do not believe implementing this change would result in a significant additional cost.
We noted that most of the counties we visited have not monitored outcomes to assess the effectiveness of their efforts with dually involved youth because they are not required to do so. For example, none of the counties tracked outcomes related to graduation rates for this population. Although Los Angeles County and Santa Clara County track some outcomes related to arrests, sustained petitions, and permanent placements for a small subset of their dually involved youth, the rest of the counties track these outcomes only for their broader population of youth in the juvenile justice system.
The counties we visited were unable to report outcomes specific to their population of dually involved youth because they cannot accurately identify these youth. Specifically, five of the six counties could not accurately identify the total number of youth they had declared as dually involved during our audit period—January 2012 through December 2014. Most of the counties we visited use their own data systems to identify this population; however, these data systems contain inaccurate or incomplete data. Counties are not required to maintain accurate and complete data on the outcome of joint assessment hearings, at which judges determine whether to place dually involved youth under the supervision of the county welfare or juvenile justice system. Thus, any observations about how frequently hearings result in a youth's formal involvement with the juvenile system might be reflective of errors, rather than differences in the counties' processes. Therefore, the State cannot perform a robust comparison between the populations of dually involved youth in dual status and nondual status counties. Despite these issues, we noted that four of the counties—Alameda, Los Angeles, Sacramento, and Santa Clara—that are implementing best practice models related to dually involved youth have recently started developing mechanisms to track these data.
We reviewed the outcomes and services reported in the case files of 166 youth who were adjudicated as dual status youth in the three dual status counties or as crossover youth in the three nondual status counties during our audit period. We found that a county's decision to implement dual status protocols did not appear to greatly affect the number of services offered or the outcomes achieved for these youth. Although the youth in the dual status counties appeared to have less juvenile justice involvement than those in the nondual status counties, we noted that both dual and nondual status counties had similar average numbers of out-of-home placements after a youth's joint assessment hearing. Furthermore, all six of the counties we visited provided a variety of services to dually involved youth, including mental health, substance abuse, youth development, and education services. Our review revealed that these youth typically received a significantly higher number of services after they became wards of the court in both dual status and nondual status counties. However, we also found that youth in dual status counties received more continuity of services from social workers and dependency attorneys than did the youth in nondual status counties because nondual status counties must close youths' dependency cases when they become wards of the court, whereas dual status counties may keep the youths' dependency cases open. We also noted that regardless of dual or nondual status, the counties provided little in the way of continuity of court appointed special advocates because few of the youth received those services before becoming wards.
To ensure that CWS and probation agencies are able to identify their populations of dually involved youth, the Legislature should require Social Services to do the following:
- Implement a function within the statewide case management system that will enable county CWS and probation agencies to identify dually involved youth.
- Issue guidance to the counties on how to use the statewide case management system to track joint assessment hearing information completely and consistently for these youth.
To better understand and serve the dually involved youth population, the Legislature should require the Judicial Council to work with county CWS and probation agencies and state representatives to establish a committee or work with an existing committee to do the following:
- Develop a common identifier counties can use to reconcile data across CWS and probation data systems statewide.
- Develop standardized definitions for terms related to the populations of youth involved in both the CWS and probation systems, such as dually involved, crossover, and dual status youth.
- Identify and define outcomes for counties to track for dually involved youth, such as outcomes related to recidivism and education.
- Establish baselines and goals for those outcomes.
- Share this information with the Legislature, so it can consider whether to require counties to utilize and track these elements.
If the State enacts data-related requirements, it should require the Judicial Council's committee to compile and publish county data two years after the start of county data collection requirements.
To identify their population of dually involved youth, CWS and probation agencies within each county should do the following:
- Designate the data system they will use for tracking the dates and results of joint assessment hearings.
- Provide guidance or training to staff on recording joint assessment hearing information consistently within the designated system.
The counties and the Judicial Council generally agreed with our findings and recommendations. Alameda County and Social Services did not provide responses to the audit.
1 A disposition is the action to be taken or treatment plan decided on by the court, after the court sustains a petition. A petition is a document filed by the district attorney alleging that a youth committed an offense. A judge will sustain a petition if he or she finds the allegations against the youth to be true. A sustained petition is similar to a finding of guilt in an adult criminal proceeding. Go back to text