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Update March 1999 - Interagency

Interagency Working Group on the Link Between Child Maltreatment and Juvenile Delinquency

The term "maltreatment" refers to a range of scenarios in which the parent or caretaker endangers or actually harms the health and welfare of a child under age 18, including:


  • Abuse of a child through the infliction of physical injury, sexual exploitation, or serious emotional harm.


  • Neglect of a child's basic needs in the areas of physical care and supervision, educational development, and emotional well being.


Research conducted to date clearly confirms that children who are maltreated by their parents or caretakers not only suffer the immediate consequences of abuse and neglect but also are at heightened risk for early onset of and involvement in serious and violent delinquency and other adolescent problem behaviors, including substance abuse, low academic achievement, teen pregnancy, and mental health problems.


Given this risk, the Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention established the Interagency Working Group on the Link Between Child Maltreatment and Juvenile Delinquency at its meeting on February 3, 1998. The Working Group has provided a forum for purposeful, thoughtful discussion of how to formulate a coordinated, comprehensive, and multidisciplinary agenda for advancing research, policy, and practice at the national, State, and local levels on the link between child maltreatment and delinquency. To inform this discussion, the Working Group first conducted a preliminary assessment of the relevant research literature, policy issues, and ongoing and planned program initiatives in the areas of child victimization and delinquency.

The overall approach adopted by the Working Group is to view maltreatment from the perspective of the abused and neglected child and to foster efforts to more effectively prevent the occurrence of maltreatment and intervene in its aftermath to lessen the negative consequences, particularly delinquent behavior. This Working Group benefits from (1) the active participation of practitioners, researchers, and interagency representatives who have reached consensus that any recommended course of action must be grounded in the realities of the developmental needs of the abused and/or neglected child victim and the maltreated juvenile offender and (2) coordination with the Deputy Attorney General's Children Exposed to Violence Initiative, which is described below.

Recent and Planned Activities

The Working Group found it conceptually helpful to target five categories of at-risk or victimized children who might benefit from prevention or intervention strategies. The Working Group then began the ongoing process of identifying effective or promising program models that would assist jurisdictions in addressing the developmental needs of each target group. The five target groups are described briefly below along with a single suggested example of an appropriate program model for each:


  • The prenatal victim, whose mother exposes the unborn child to alcohol or other drugs and/or is neglectful by failing to provide proper nutrition or medical care. (Suggested program: Prenatal and Early Childhood Nurse Home Visitation to reduce prenatal and early childhood risks, including child abuse.)


  • The child at high risk for maltreatment because factors such as parental immaturity, poor stress management, substance abuse or mental illness, domestic violence, family history of incarceration, school failure, or maltreatment of siblings. (Suggested program: Starting Early, Starting Smart for integrated behavioral health services within primary care and early childhood service settings.)


  • The maltreated child who would benefit from early intervention, including identification, assessment, and treatment to prevent subsequent delinquency. (Suggested program: Model Dependency Courts to expeditiously address these cases and secure safe permanent placements for all maltreated children.)


  • The maltreated child who initiates delinquency at a very young age (12 years and younger) and requires interventions that would both nurture the victim and help him or her to replace offending behavior with positive alternatives. (Suggested program: Sacramento County Community Intervention Program to provide maltreated young delinquents with a multidisciplinary team composed of probation, child welfare, mental health, and community workers for assessment, planning, and referral to services.)


  • The adolescent offender who was previously and/or is currently a victim of maltreatment should receive consideration for individualized treatment and rehabilitation rather than incarceration (which is not only punitive and very expensive, but places offenders at high risk of further victimization and recidivism upon release). (Suggested program: Multisystemic Therapy to promote behavior change in the juvenile offender's environment, using the strengths of each system, e.g., family, peers, school, neighborhood, and indigenous support network, to facilitate change.)


The search for effective and promising programs will continue as the Working Group, with the assistance of the Child Welfare League of America, begins to convene State forums on the link between child maltreatment and juvenile delinquency. The Working Group is now working with State authorities to plan its initial forums in South Carolina, Indiana, and Alaska. Additional forums are also planned in other States. The forums will be designed to foster collaborative systems of care by bringing together State and local legislators and representatives of child welfare, law enforcement, prosecution, juvenile justice, courts and court administration, social work, education, public health, mental health, child advocacy, the faith community, and research and evaluation. These forums will also increase public awareness, identify promising strategies and ongoing initiatives, outline the community-based collaborative assessment and planning process, and allow for discussion of local adaptation of effective and/or promising approaches. Forum participants will discuss the dedication of resources (staff, funding, and facilities) to provide intensive intervention, ways to access different funding sources, and data sharing across systems.

The Working Group convened its most recent meeting on March 17, 1999, at which representatives of the Child Welfare League of America and other involved Working Group participants provided an update on progress in planning State forums. Working Group members also identified and prioritized practical next steps for advancing the group's recommended course of action. In addition, an update was provided on the new Children Exposed to Violence Initiative, recently announced by Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder. Under this initiative, the U.S. Department of Justice will work with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and with State and local authorities to address not only parent/caretaker abuse, but also the broader concerns of children exposed to violence, including the witnessing of violence and personal victimization of a child by a perpetrator who is not the parent or caretaker. The initiative seeks to accomplish the following:


  • Improve justice system treatment of child victims and witnesses of violence.


  • Investigate suspicious child fatalities using Child Death Review Teams.


  • Propose model Federal and State legislation that would (1) make child abuse offenses predicates for felony murder and define murder to include the death of a child resulting from a pattern of child abuse and (2) provide a sentencing enhancement whenever a violent crime is committed in the presence of a child.


  • Strengthen prevention and intervention initiatives focusing on children exposed to violence, including making available $10 million for the Safe Start demonstration program to help up to 12 communities promote and build upon proven initiatives like the Child Development-Community Policing program, a successful partnership between the New Haven Police Department and the Yale University Child Study Center.


  • Increase public awareness by sponsoring a National Summit on Children Exposed to Violence in May 1999.


The Working Group continues to coordinate its efforts with the Deputy Attorney General's Children Exposed to Violence Initiative-a distinct, yet complementary effort to address child victimization.

To Be Discussed at the Meeting

The Council will be informed of the results of the Working Group's most recent meeting, including plans for State forums, progress on repackaging information for improved communication on the issue to policymakers, and suggested priorities and a timeline for completing the remainder of the action plan, as approved by the Coordinating Council at its meeting of December 9, 1998.

Possible Next Steps

As the Working Group proceeds with ongoing efforts to facilitate the State forum process and to identify proven effective and promising program models, the Council may consider the following additional tasks to be pursued under the proposed workplan:


  • Developing advance reading materials for forum participants to inform their discussion of State and local initiatives and help them adapt effective and promising programs.


  • Developing templates for forums for localities to follow when convening their own sessions.


  • Consolidating and/or repackaging literature and other information on research, evaluation, policy, and programs in a readable fashion for policymakers, practitioners, and the public. Development of Web-based communications, in particular, would facilitate timely communication with a broad-based audience.


  • Convening a forum with foundations interested in funding child, youth, and family initiatives to educate the philanthropic community on the link between child maltreatment and delinquency.


  • Producing a satellite teleconference with selected expert speakers to raise public awareness and facilitate information sharing on effective and/or promising program strategies to combat and prevent child maltreatment and delinquent involvement of victims.


  • Communicating with OJJDP's Study Group on Very Young Offenders (7 to 12 years old) regarding the relationship between juvenile justice, mental health, and child welfare services.


  • Addressing child maltreatment in ongoing longitudinal studies of delinquency and youth development to better understand how child maltreatment experiences affect victims in the general population and why, and under what circumstances, certain maltreated children thrive and avoid such pitfalls as delinquency, drug abuse, mental illness, and school failure as they develop.


  • Reassessing the potential Federal role in supporting research and development model implementation, demonstration programs, evaluation efforts, information dissemination, and technical assistance and training (particularly on local assessment of community service needs) relating to maltreatment and delinquency.


Julie L. Herr
Juvenile Justice Program Specialist
Concentration of Federal Efforts Program
202-353-9260 - telephone
202-307-2093 - fax
[email protected] - e-mail

Date Created: July 8, 2020