Grant Helps County Focus on Success for “Crossover Youth”

November 8, 2012 | 8:46am

Kids who end up in San Diego’s juvenile justice system are often at risk for troubled adulthoods because of multiple issues in their lives. If those issues include abusive or neglectful homes, the risk of trouble ahead is multiplied.

With these high stakes and a new $75,000 grant as the backdrop, the Probation Department will lead a planning effort in the coming months to ensure programs and services are in place to help the very highest-risk youth: “crossover youth.”

Crossover youth are kids who break the law and who have also been involved with the child welfare system. At home, abuse or neglect has been so serious the County’s Child Welfare Services and possibly the court and foster parents have stepped in.

 “We know that crossover youth have complex needs,” said Chief Probation Officer Mack Jenkins. “This grant and the resources it brings will help the Probation Department and others who serve crossover youth design a program to carefully address those needs. Crossover youth have had tough lives, but we know we can develop their positive potential and help them achieve brighter futures.”

The Probation Department recently learned it was one of six public agencies in the state to receive a Positive Youth Justice Initiative grant from the Sierra Health Foundation, an independent foundation committed to supporting health-related activities in Northern California and, in this program, the state at large.     

The initiative calls on probation departments to collaborate with other county departments, community organizations, young people and families to develop effective programs for crossover youth. Only counties with a strong history of juvenile justice collaboration were invited to apply.

 “Rehabilitating youth is not a solo pursuit, and we already serve the needs of young people through strong collaborations with County Child Welfare Services, Behavioral Health, the County Office of Education and nonprofits and community groups,” Jenkins said. “This grant gives us a chance to build on that work and improve our efforts to rehabilitate the most challenging young people.”

The $75,000 grant will allow the Probation Department to work with its local partners and Sierra Health experts to develop a new program that will identify crossover youth in the juvenile justice system and develop tailored services and programs for them.

Of the six counties making plans, four will ultimately receive $400,000 over two years to help implement the new programs.   

Juvenile justice research shows that certain practices make lasting rehabilitation more likely, and these practices will be part of the County’s plans. Positive programs and services that engage the youth with community, family, education and work will be emphasized.

Addressing the trauma crossover youth have lived through will also be a key component of the plans. Studies show people who have experienced trauma, such as child abuse, benefit from particular styles of counseling and special services—and indeed may never thrive without them.  

Since at least two County departments—Probation and Child Welfare Services—may be involved in a crossover youth’s life at any given time, any new program will expand data-sharing and coordinated case planning between the two departments.

“Crossover youth face many barriers to success,” said Debra Zanders-Willis, County Child Welfare Services Director. “I look forward to working closely with Probation to make sure we’re coordinating our efforts to remove as many barriers as we can and help these young people grow into lawful, independent adults.”