A century ago, California became the seventh state to establish a separate court system for delinquent and dependent children. The Los Angeles Times says that attorneys, judges, and social workers gathered this month to discuss ways to make the court more effective. Their conclusions: Effective programs should be identified and duplicated; families need to become more involved; overlapping issues of mental health, substance abuse and family violence need to be weighed; professionals must continue to rehabilitate youths, and hold them accountable for their offenses.
“Every day in California, there are literally thousands of decisions made, critical junctures in the lives of our children,” said Judge Leonard Edwards, who supervises the dependency court in Santa Clara County. “A child is adopted, a child is removed, a child is sent to the California Youth Authority.”
Contrary to public perception, there has been a 30 percent drop in juvenile arrests in California over the last decade. Still, the state’s numbers remain high. Last year, there were nearly 230,000 juvenile arrests, and juveniles are being locked up in record numbers.
The Judicial Council of California proposed legislation this month to give counties joint jurisdiction over children who are dependents of the court and who have committed offenses. So if a teen in foster care is picked up for shoplifting, for example, the youth would not have to be removed from the dependency system. Three years ago, voters passed Proposition 21 to make it easier for juveniles to be tried as adults. The initiative gave prosecutors, instead of judges, the authority to decide whether certain teens should be tried as adults.