Three-fourths of teenagers in the child welfare system have run into trouble with the law, and half wound up in detention, a new study finds.
Substance abuse, mental health problems, truancy and sexual abuse permeated the lives of abused and neglected children who were delinquent during 2001-02 in Maricopa, Pima, Coconino and Cochise counties, the Arizona Dual Jurisdiction Study found.
Commissioned by the Arizona Supreme Court, the twoyear National Center for Juvenile Justice study also found that children who were wards of the court were twice as likely to be accused of a subsequent crime than kids who were not and twice as likely to wind up at one of the state’s juvenile lockups.
Collaboration among state agencies and juvenile courts, better assessment of the kids, more training and more funding are among the report’s recommendations.
Nearly 1,000 Maricopa County youth are delinquent and dependent, which means their parents have either temporarily or permanently lost custody of them. On average, the study said, they had been in 11 different foster care placements.
In a review of case files, researchers found:
• Two-thirds of the girls had been sexually abused.
• Nearly two-thirds of the youth were diagnosed with severe mental health problems.
• Eighty percent of the juveniles had drug or alcohol problems.
• Eighty percent had parents who were substance abusers, 61 percent of the families had housing or financial problems, and more than half had at least one parent who served time in jail or prison.
The numbers are troubling, but not surprising, said Helene Abrams, chief for the county’s juvenile public defender’s office.
"Growing up without parents is very, very hard," Abrams said. "And when the substitute is the state, it’s just not the same."