Your response to last week's blog on the social worker's role in juvenile justice was overwhelmingly positive but many of you thought that the issues might be better clarified in context. So, let's try to put juvenile justice in some historical perspective.
- During a single year, an estimated 2.1 million youth under the age of 18 are arrested in the United States.
- Though overall rates have been declining over the past years, approximately 1.7 million delinquency cases are disposed in juvenile courts annually.
- Youth are referred to the juvenile justice system for different types of offenses.
- The majority of youth processed through the juvenile court are adjudicated (i.e., declared by a judge to be) delinquent, for most offenses.
Social work is filled with disconcerting moral challenges. In child protective services, practitioners are called on to investigate reports of abuse or neglect of children. Once they have investigated the allegations and considered all relevant facts, these social workers have to make daunting decisions about whether to remove the alleged victim from their homes and find alternative housing arrangements. These decisions affect the parents, the children, and the family at large. Rest assured, social workers are aware that, even as they are trying to prevent the child from suffering abuse or neglect, someone is about to suffer. The cases these professionals are called upon to handle are rarely black and white.
Since 1977 when Annie opened on Broadway, theatrical artists have been portraying endangered youth who have experienced both maltreatment and engaged in delinquent behavior like Oliver Twist and Little Orphan Annie.
Oliver! and Annie, two of Broadway’s most iconic musicals, star two children caught between Juvenile Justice and Child Protective Services.
A recent article in Social Work Today highlights a true triumph of empathy. In Innovations: New Foster Care Initiative Spotlights Parent Advocates, Debra McCall describes the parents’ pain when social workers have to remove children from their families.
“It is never easy. We enter parents’ lives at the worst possible moment—when the children they love have been removed from their homes. At that point, parents are experiencing shame, anger, and confusion. They are frightened and frustrated by the “intrusion” of the child welfare system into their lives. And they fear losing their children permanently, perhaps because that’s what happened to a neighbor or a friend.” (Social Work Today, Vol. 21 No. 1 P.3)