Status Offending Youth: Report Stresses Assistance Over Prosecution

The Vera Institute of Justice Status Offense Reform Center recently released From Courts to Communities: The Right Response to Truancy, Running Away and Other Status Offenses, a white paper emphasizing assistance over prosecution for status offending youth. 
According to Vera, "Youth who run away from home, routinely skip school, and engage in other risky behaviors that are prohibited precisely because of their young age, are acting out in ways that should concern the adults in their lives. They need appropriate attention—but not from the juvenile justice system."

To avoid deeper involvement in the system, Vera suggests an effective community-based response that features:

1. Diversion from court. Keeping kids out of court requires having mechanisms in place that actively steer families away from the juvenile justice system and toward community-based services.

2. An immediate response. Families trying to cope with behaviors that are considered status offenses may need assistance right away from trained professionals who can work with them, often in their home, to de-escalate the situation. In some cases, families also benefit from a cool-down period in which the young person spends a few nights outside of the home in a respite center.

3. A triage process. Through careful screening and assessment, effective systems identify needs and tailor services accordingly. Some families require only brief and minimal intervention—a caring adult to listen and help the family navigate the issues at hand. At the other end of the spectrum are families that need intensive and ongoing support and services to resolve problems.

4. Services that are accessible and effective. Easy access is key. If services are far away, alienating, costly, or otherwise difficult to use, families may opt out before they can meaningfully address their needs. Equally important, local services must engage the entire family, not just the youth, and be proven to work based on objective evidence.
5. Internal assessment. Regardless of how well new practices are designed and implemented, there are bound to be some that run more smoothly than others, at least at first. Monitoring outcomes and adjusting practices as needed are essential to be effective and also to sustain support for new practices.

Learn more about communities that have successfully implemented community-based responses by accessing the full white paper for free on

Vera’s Status Offense Reform Center, which is part of the MacArthur Foundations’s Models for Change Resource Center Partnership, acts as a resource to policymakers and practitioners, helping states and localities develop useful community-based responses to young people whose behavior is problematic, but noncriminal in nature.

Susan Richardson is national executive director for Reclaiming Futures. Formerly, she was a senior program officer in the health care division of the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust in North Carolina, where she led a three-year effort involving the state's juvenile justice and treatment leaders to adopt the Reclaiming Futures model by juvenile courts in six North Carolina counties. She received her B.S. in Public Health, Health Policy and Administration, from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Updated: January 30 2014