Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Interrupting the Prison Pipeline through the D.C. Child Welfare System

By Katie Ishizuka

Last week, the Justice Policy Institute (JPI) released the fourth and final brief in a series addressing ways in which youth outcomes in the District can be improved to decrease justice system involvement and increase public safety. The brief, entitled Fostering Change: How Investing in D.C.’s Child Welfare System Can Keep Kids Out of the Prison Pipeline, focuses on youth involved in the District’s child welfare system. 

District youth may become involved with the child welfare system for a number of reasons, with the top two being neglect and physical abuse. The third highest reason for youth entering foster care is now parental incarceration: a collateral consequence of D.C. possessing one of the highest incarceration rates in the country.

The majority of these youth are in poverty and residing in Wards (7 and 8) facing economic, social and political exclusion and disinvestment. Ninety-nine percent are African American or Latino. They are 30% more likely to commit violent crime, 59% more likely to be arrested as juveniles and 28% more likely to be arrested as adults if they have experienced maltreatment. One in six has an incarcerated parent and almost half will not graduate high school of those in foster care. Most have experienced multiple forms of trauma and for those currently or previously involved in the child welfare system, the leading cause of death is violent homicide by gunshot.

Put another way, this is an extremely vulnerable group of youth facing individual, family, neighborhood and systemic barriers. While the District’s public child welfare agency, Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA), is tasked with ensuring the safety and well-being of these youth, no single agency or system can do this alone. Improving youth outcomes is reliant upon the strengths and collaboration of all youth-serving systems, including the education, employment and mental health systems. Recommendations on how these systems can be supported can be found in JPI’s first three briefs: Mindful of the Consequences:How Improving the Mental Health of D.C. Youth Benefits the District; Workingfor a Better Future: How expanding employment opportunities for D.C’s youthcreates public safety benefits for all residents; and The Education of D.C.:How Washington D.C.’s investments in education can help increase public safety.

In addition, optimizing youth outcomes is reliant upon neighborhood and community investments in the areas of D.C. with the highest rates of poverty and unemployment, including Wards 5, 7 and 8. The Wards in which people have the ability to get work and provide for their families are the Wards with the lowest child welfare system involvement and lowest justice system involvement.

More information on solutions with the capacity to promote the short and long-term safety, well-being and permanency of the District’s vulnerable youth; save on foster care, criminal justice and human costs; enhance social justice and increase public safety can be found in Fostering Change

Katie Ishizuka is a JPI research intern and co-author of Fostering Change: How Investing in D.C.'s Child Welfare System Can Keep Kids Out of the Prison Pipeline. 

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