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Dec/Jan 2003Vol. 3, No. 10Disproportionality in Juvenile Justice System May Have Roots in Child Welfare

Minority youth are disproportionately represented in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. All too often, the same children are involved with both. Now, research suggests that cultural and racial bias in child welfare decision-making may compound the problem long before children reach the justice system.

Many of the same social and economic factors--such as poverty and single parenthood--put children at risk for both maltreatment and juvenile delinquency. These factors are often present to a greater degree in communities of color, but a recent article in the Child Welfare League of America's Children's Voice suggests that this is not the whole picture. Although national data is currently lacking, smaller studies have confirmed that minority children in the child welfare system experience disadvantages in areas such as the range and quality of services offered, how quickly their cases are handled, the kind of support offered to their families, and eventual outcomes. Disparate treatment of minority youth has also been found in the juvenile justice system.

The article cites a number of barriers that need to be overcome before effective solutions can be found. However, the author says that all involved agree a positive first step is for "the two systems [juvenile justice and welfare] collaborate and integrate services and resources to meet the needs of children, regardless of how, why, or when they enter the system."

The full article, "Minorities as Majority: Disproportionality in Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice," appears in the November/December 2002 issue of Children's Voice, and is available on the Child Welfare League of America website at A companion article focusing on promising programs to address the disparities will appear in the next issue of Children's Voice.