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Juvenile Justice: Juvenile and Family Courts

Abstract and Keywords

This section defines and discusses the jurisdictions of the juvenile and family courts as well as their influences on social work practice. The history of the court, several interpretations of it, as well as various reform efforts are reviewed. Opportunities for social workers to be employed by the numerous agencies affiliated with the court, as well as several nontraditional social work roles, are outlined in this section. The final two parts of the section discuss the major innovations and primary challenges faced by the contemporary court such as gender, class, and racial biases in the system, questions about the effectiveness of the court and associated programs. Finally, proposals to abolish or reinvent the juvenile court are presented.

Keywords: juvenile court, family court, court jurisdiction, juvenile delinquency, status offenses, dependency, juvenile drug courts, teen courts, diversion, deinstitutionalization, decrminalization, juvenile death penalty, guardians ad litem, court appointed special advocate

“Invented in 1899 in Illinois, this [the juvenile court] American idea has achieved a worldwide popularity larger than any other Anglo-American innovation” (Zimring, 2005, p. xi). While there are obvious differences in the court from country to country, state to state, and even in counties of the same state, there is no question the jurisdiction and power of the court permits social workers to intervene in the lives of infants, children, adolescents, and their families.

The wide reach and multiple functions of juvenile and family court create the organizational and policy context for social work practice with children, youth, and families. The primary purpose of this section is to define the court's jurisdiction and to illustrate its influence on social work practice. This is done by briefly reviewing the history of the court, its societal role, and legal jurisdiction. In addition, ongoing themes, issues, and controversies are identified.

Definition of Juvenile Court

As a major social institution (Vinter, 1967) members of society have expectations and hopes for the juvenile court: be a compassionate guardian of wayward children; protect children from persons and situations deemed unhealthy or harmful; protect the public from assaults on their person or property; preserve families; and prevent delinquency, abuse, and neglect.

There is little consensus on the goals of juvenile court especially when recognizing that the court involves itself in the lives of abandoned, maltreated, and misbehaving children. It is clear that at least two major challenges face the court: (a) society has extremely high expectations for the court, expecting it to not only prevent but resolve very complex social and individual problems; and (b) many goals contradict each other and produce a tension that is difficult to balance, such as the “caring” and “correcting” thrusts of the court. This struggle, among others, is critical to the court's history, trends in policy, and everyday social work practice (Vinter, 1967).


Laws in every state specifically define the situations and behaviors that fall under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court. A youth's age is a primary delimiting factor. Most states set the upper age limit for delinquency and dependency at 17, and some states define an age under which a youth will not be handled as a delinquent (for example, 10 or 12). Exceptions to jurisdictional limits are numerous and complex. It is common for the court to retain jurisdiction until youth reach the age of 21 if they are in the custody of a court authorized agency.


The primary factor that defines court jurisdiction is situational or behavioral. Costin, Bell, and Downs (1991) categorize these situations in the following manner. First, the court has jurisdiction when youth are alleged delinquents, usually defined as the violation of any local, state, or federal law for which an adult can be prosecuted. There are times when the juvenile court may relinquish this jurisdiction. When this occurs, jurisdiction falls to adult criminal court.

In Need of Services?

Second, most juvenile courts have jurisdiction when youth are thought to be in need of services or supervision. Examples include running away, truancy, disobedience (also known as ungovernable or incorrigible), and curfew violations. These “status offenses”—behaviors subject to court jurisdiction because of the youth's status as a minor, but for which an adult is not—are controversial because of their vagueness, their paternalistic overuse (especially with girls), and that status offenders were institutionalized with delinquent youth, even, in some cases, for longer periods of time. Federal legislation (the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act) originally passed in 1975 and reauthorized since has reduced some of the problems associated with this type of court jurisdiction, but unless more services are made available to these youth and their families, there is the real possibility that courts will try to reestablish their powers over these youth. While incarcerating status offenders is rarely an effective solution, parents, judges, and law enforcement officials are frustrated because many states and communities have not sufficiently invested in alternative programs. Zimring's (2005) conclusion about this aspect of court jurisdiction is clear: “The saga of the status offender was one of the great failings of the interventionist theory of juvenile courts” (p. 43).

Dependency, Neglect, and Abuse

The third area of juvenile court jurisdiction concerns the quality of care and protection children receive from their parent(s) or legal custodian(s). State laws refer to these youth as dependent, neglected, or abused children. Dependency refers to “destitute or abandoned children who are without adequate means of support and care” whereas “[n]eglect and abuse pertain to children whose parents or custodians actively deny proper care or inflict injury” (Flicker, 1987, p. 239). Neglect is a vague area of jurisdiction, and even though policies dictate that parents must have the means to provide care before they can be considered neglectful, it is easy to see that unless social workers are aware and sensitive to the myriad cultural and economic overlays of neglect, the court might overintervene into families.

The broad conceptualization of the juvenile court used here is that expansive network of agencies, programs, roles, policies, and practices that operate to exercise authority over and deliver services to children, youth, and families in order to accomplish the goals described earlier. Functions such as law enforcement, court intake, pre- and posttrial detention, prosecution, the judiciary, defense, probation, juvenile corrections, and parole or aftercare are encompassed by this conceptualization.

Definition of the Family Court

The difference between the juvenile and family court is one of breadth of jurisdiction. In addition to jurisdiction over the traditional matters of the juvenile court, family courts have jurisdiction over divorce, paternity or child support, adoption, domestic violence protection orders, and intrafamily misdemeanors (Rubin, 1991). Case coordination is the goal of this approach, and some believe that the best of all worlds occurs if the same judge hears all the different cases for a particular family. Absent a family court, families' cases could be scattered among civil, criminal, juvenile, probate, domestic relations, divorce, and traffic courts.

Hurst and Syzmanski's report (as cited in Gebo, 2005) indicates that “in 1996, 35 states were either operating or considering developing family courts” (p. 190). Rubin (1991) points out that court organization is very complex and a unified family court is no guarantee of case coordination. “For example, the circuit court in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has jurisdiction over all these matters. But, adoption proceedings take place in the probate division; juvenile matters are heard in the children's division; dissolution, domestic violence protection orders, and paternity or child support are centered in the family division; and intra-family misdemeanors are heard in the misdemeanor and traffic division” (p. 42). Not only are there major structural and practical obstacles to case coordination, but consolidated jurisdictions such as that envisioned in family courts, raise constitutional questions as well (Guggenheim, 1991). Flango (2000) asserts “the increasing volume and complexity of family caseloads place significant constraints on the ability of courts to both address the needs of families and effectively manage cases” (p. 99).

History of the Juvenile Court

Many excellent histories of the juvenile court have been written (Empey, 1982; Krisberg & Austin 1993; Mennel, 1973; Platt, 1977, Rosenheim, 2002). The court's history can be divided into two major eras, the pre-Gault and post-Gault periods.

Parens Patriae Philosophy

During the 19th century, there was an emerging recognition that youth were developmentally distinct from adults, and their welfare and misbehaviors required different societal responses. With this recognition, separate court policies and practices for juveniles began throughout the country. Illinois is recognized as having the first juvenile court because that state legislature was the first to codify many of these practices into law in 1899.

Even though all 50 states have established juvenile courts, they vary by breadth of jurisdiction, location in state court structure (Sutton, 1985), and in administrative authority. Nevertheless, the operation of every juvenile court is premised on a parens patriae philosophy, an approach to delinquency, which focuses on why youth act out and how to rehabilitate them. Any youthful misbehavior, from skipping school or being idle, to actual crimes, was a concern of the juvenile court. Court procedures were informal and lawyers and due process practices common in adult criminal court were less extensive and formal in juvenile court. For example, contrary to our current courtroom designs, juvenile judges frequently sat beside the youth at a table so as to diagnose the youth's problems.

Historians, sociologists, and others have overlapping interpretations of why the juvenile court came to be and what motivated its creators. One of the most frequently articulated versions is that the court emerged from the humanitarian impulses of Progressive Era philanthropists, civic groups, and social workers. Abandoned or destitute children were in need of care and protection; lawless youth needed compassionate intervention separate from adult offenders. Other social commentators explain, however, that societal elites created the juvenile court so as to control the lower classes and emigrants who were a threat to class stability (Platt, 1977). Pointing to current ethnic disproportionality in juvenile institutions, contemporary critics make similar arguments that the court is still an instrument of the white, wealthy class.

Another view of the court's history holds that the court optimistically institutionalized the Progressive Era's new scientific determinism: delinquency is not genetic but is determined by events in a youth's life. This being the case, individualistic interventions will reverse delinquent habits and tendencies. Finally, another version of the motivations behind the creation and operation of the juvenile court is that increased migration, urbanization, industrialization, and compulsory education produced larger and larger numbers of wayward youth, and a new social mechanism was needed to help enforce the authority of the community, families, and the schools (Ferdinand, 1991). The juvenile court, supported by its parens patriae philosophy, was a practical response to the social problems of the day.

Whichever interpretation one chooses, it is irrefutable that social workers were among the early leaders of the juvenile court movement, as well as being its volunteers and employees (Costin et al., 1991). Further, Sutton (1985) makes a strong argument that the creation of the juvenile court and its widespread adoption by states was part of the broader charity organization movement.

After In re Gault

In the 1960s, as a result of several Supreme Court rulings (most notably In re Gault [1967]), increasing juvenile crime, and discouraging research findings concerning the recidivism of juvenile justice system “graduates” as well as increasing reports of inhumane institutional settings, the juvenile court came under attack and began extending constitutional due process protections to juveniles. In the Gault case, the Supreme Court ruled that juveniles have the right to be notified of the charges against them, to be protected against self-incrimination, to confront witnesses, and to have a written transcript of the proceedings. The Supreme Court, as well as many researchers and social commentators, concluded that notwithstanding the good intentions of the designers of the juvenile court, treatment turned out to be worse than punishment in that youth were frequently sent to decrepit and abusive institutions for long stays without any social, health or educational services.

Prior to the Gault ruling, the court intervened based on its perceptions of juveniles' needs and used “low” levels of proof (for example, a preponderance of evidence). Several Supreme Court rulings attempted to focus the juvenile court on the establishment of “legal guilt” beyond a reasonable doubt; it banned double jeopardy and gave juveniles a right to counsel, and essentially “posited a functional equivalence between criminal trials and delinquency proceedings” (Feld, 1992, p. 62). Notwithstanding these decisions to increase due process in the juvenile court, the Supreme Court has also ruled that juveniles do not have a right to jury trials.

Outcome of “D” Reforms

During 1970s, the “D” reforms—the diversion of juveniles away from court, the deinstitutionalization and decriminalization of status offenses, and the improvement of due process protections—were implemented because the juvenile court failed to meet societal expectations and because juveniles are stigmatized and allowed to learn from serious offenders (Blomberg, 1984). There are disagreements about their impact, including unintended consequences. Practitioners and scholars have raised questions about the degree to which due process rights have actually been extended to juveniles. For example, Feld (1990) estimates that approximately half of the juveniles appearing in court have the services of legal counsel.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently issued a ruling on another “D,” the death penalty for juveniles. The case, Roper v. Simmons, was decided in March 2005 on a slim majority vote (five justices to four). The National Association of Social Workers filed an amicus curiae brief opposing the juvenile death penalty. The Court ruled that persons who are under the age of 18 when they commit murder will not be subject to the death penalty.

The performance of juvenile court continues to be unsatisfactory as both liberals and conservatives continue to propose changes. Recent proposals to reform the juvenile court are dominated by a conservative agenda (Krisberg & Austin 1993), with an emphasis on personal responsibility (Roberts & Brownell 1999). This agenda emphasizes deterrence, accountability, determinant sentencing, incarceration, and easier transfer to adult court.

Social Work Roles

The jurisdiction and design of the court create the context for social work practice with children and youth. Whenever social workers investigate reports of abuse, conduct intake interviews determining youths' suitability for court or detention, or find temporary shelter for runaways, they act as agents of the court and the powers of the court allow them to intervene.

It is difficult to estimate how many social workers have jobs that are associated with juvenile or family courts. Addressing “forensic social work,” Roberts and Brownell (1999) explain “that only 1.2 percent of its members [NASW] identified themselves as working in the field of corrections and law enforcement (Gibelman, 1995). However, if social workers providing protective services for children, adults, and families, as well as other victim services, were included in the forensic social work category, this percentage likely would increase” (p. 363).

While some of the data is dated, inexact, and anecdotal, there is a fair consensus that social work does not have the presence it once did in the juvenile court (Gumz, 2004). An MSW used to be, but no longer is, a common prerequisite to become a juvenile probation officer or counselor.

There are many challenging roles for social workers at direct service, supervisory, management, or policy levels. Social workers have traditionally been employed at all levels of juvenile justice and child welfare agencies. Besides the traditional jobs social workers hold in the court, there are many others that might not ordinarily come to mind. It is rarely mentioned that social workers can and do get law degrees, and, therefore, are prepared to become juvenile judges, prosecutors, or defense attorneys. Second, community policing, the popular law enforcement innovation of the day, has distinctive social work correlates and should not be ruled out as a job possibility. This approach emphasizes prevention, mediation of disputes, and referral to services. Third, states and communities are trying to remove categorical barriers to service delivery and promote “blended” or “wrap-around” services especially to multiproblem youth. Delinquent youth are a key target of these efforts and social workers are an excellent choice as case coordinators or managers. Fourth, the drug, alcohol, and mental health problems of delinquent and dependent youth are well known. Opportunities exist for social workers to design and offer relevant programming for these issues, either within or adjacent to existing programs. Finally, since the court remains flawed in structure, policy, and operation, there is a great need for social workers to do advocacy work, from inside or outside, at the case or class level (Ezell, 1994).

Challenges for Social Workers

Understanding how the court delegates its authority to social workers, thereby facilitating interventions for children and families, is critical because some argue that the court is unnecessary and agency interventions are sufficient, especially in cases of abuse, neglect, and dependency. Clearly, when the actions of social workers or other agents of the court place restrictions on a person's liberty, the court must be involved. Bearrows, Bleich, and Oshima (1987) suggest other reasons for court involvement. First, in many cases parents acknowledge their behavior relating to the care of their child needs to change. Unfortunately, however, social workers do find parents who disagree and the coercive powers of court are necessary to protect children and remedy the situation. Second, some cases involve temporary or permanent transfer of care from biological parents to another party. This alteration of recognized rights and responsibilities needs to be done in a legal context.

Another reason the juvenile court provides a critical backdrop to social work is to protect children's interests when in the custody of state or local agencies. Abuses in foster or group care occur frequently enough to underscore the need for the court, independent from the agency, to continue its interests in protecting children. For example, Children's Rights, Inc., a legal advocacy organization for abused and neglected children, is currently involved in litigation in half a dozen jurisdictions to force public agencies to improve foster care (2007).

Juvenile Court Innovations

There are several noteworthy court innovations. However, all innovative programs can fall prey to the “panacea phenomenon” (Finckenauer & Gavin 1999), especially if program designers and managers fail to implement evaluative mechanisms. This phenomenon recognizes that there is no shortage of promising program ideas over which much excitement is usually generated. Once a reasonable body of rigorous evaluations attains critical mass, disenchantment—or maybe realism—prevails and the search for the next panacea begins.

Alternative Court Programs

Two alternative court programs became popular in the last decade, teen courts and drug courts. The teen court innovation relies on participation of youth as jurors usually to decide upon dispositions, but sometimes to adjudicate guilt (Minor, Wells, Soderstrom, Bingham, & Williamson 1999). This program model embraces several elements: (a) teach accountability to offenders; (b) educate offenders and jurors about court processes; and (c) use peer pressure to change behavior. Typical dispositions include restitution or community service. Elements of restorative justice may also be reflected in dispositions (see later). While some research has been reported in the literature, the lack of rigor prevents one from reaching firm conclusions about teen courts (Forgays & DeMilio, 2005)

Juvenile Drug Courts

Since the mid-1990s, juvenile drug courts are operating in virtually every state (Butts & Roman 2004). These courts are designed to meet offenders' treatment needs. “Juvenile drug courts … also focus on family needs, the influence of negative peers, continuous supervision of both juvenile and family, and coordination between the court, treatment community, and school system” (Applegate & Santana 2000; Rodriguez & Webb 2004, p. 293). As observed by Sloan and Smykla (2003), however, there is great variation from one drug court to another in terms of target population and problems as well as other variables. The research on drug courts is limited, but to date the findings on multiple measures of effectiveness have been mixed.

Guardians ad Litem

Federal legislation in the mid-1970s called for the appointment of guardians ad litem (GALs) for children on matters of dependency and maltreatment. This is a person who is charged to represent the child's best interest in court. Many communities implemented programs in which lawyers serve as GALs while others use volunteers (not necessarily attorneys); the latter are generally called “court appointed special advocates” or CASAs. In either case, GALs receive special training and are to work on cases from the very first court hearing to the end of the case. This continuity is another benefit of these programs. Foster care review boards have similar goals but use a different approach.

The duties of GALs may include case investigation, monitoring of the case, and making recommendations to the court (Youngclarke, Ramos, & Granger-Merkle, 2004). Advocating for the child is their sole responsibility, not speaking for the parent(s) or any agencies. Based on a review of 20 studies, Youngclarke et al. (2004) concluded, “that children who have CASA support do about as well, and in some important ways better, than those represented solely by an attorney” (p. 121). They caution readers not to overgeneralize the findings.

Restorative Justice

Many new programs and practices have been developed based on the concept of restorative justice (Levrant, Cullen, Fulton, & Wozniak 1999). “This concept emphasizes the elements of restoration and restitution and stresses maximum involvement in the justice process” (Gumz, 2004, p. 455). Victim offender reconciliation, mediation, and group conferencing, among others, are programs springing from the concept. One hallmark of these programs is creating new opportunities for victims of crimes and their families to be involved in the justice process, including face-to-face meetings with offenders. Other common features include offenders providing restitution to victims and the community.

The professional literature includes an increasing sprinkling of evaluative research on restorative justice programs. One such study was able to randomly assign juveniles to traditional probation versus a new model for probation (Lane, Turner, Fain, & Sehgal 2005). This particular “model calls for the state to facilitate a healing transaction among the offender, victim, and community” (p. 30). The researchers tracked several outcome measures, including recidivism, for over two years and found no significant differences between the two types of juvenile probation. As Levrant et al. (1999) warn, proceed with caution.

Current Issues and Challenges

The court is dynamically connected to other social institutions and society as a whole. Among other things, it responds to and influences public opinion. At least two social issues of public concern have a major influence on the court today: (a) the increased demand for family autonomy and (b) the perceived increase of youth violence and the nature of the court's response to it.

Family Autonomy

The first issue is most pertinent when abuse or neglect is suspected. The driving question is, which familial acts of omission or commission, and at what levels of severity constitute grounds for interventions to protect the child? At what point does the need to protect children outweigh respect for family autonomy and reasonable differences in child-rearing practices? These questions have gained heightened attention when social workers remove children from homes in what may be precipitous conditions. Conversely, social workers are criticized (even prosecuted) for failing to remove children from situations that later result in serious injury or death of a child. The court walks a fine line on these difficult issues, and it reacts to criticism from all sides, frequently revising, and sometimes overcorrecting, policies and practices. The balance between over- and underintervening will only get more precarious as society's ethnic and cultural diversity increases.

Youth Violence

The second broad social issue to which the court is reacting is the perceived dramatic increase in youth violence. As the court responds to current criticisms, it is important to differentiate between increased media coverage of youth crime and the real amount of illegal behavior. The trends in the 1980s showed an increase in the violence victimization rates for adolescents, a small increase in the percentage of youth involved in serious violent offending, and, finally, a large increase in adolescent homicide (Elliott, 1994, p. 1). Handguns are the major contributor to the increased lethality of juvenile crime.

The most recent time period in which data are available indicates that arrest rates for juveniles for violent crimes against persons “declined in 2003 for the ninth consecutive year, falling 48% from its 1994 peak and reaching its lowest level since at least 1980” (Snyder, 2005, p. 1). Likewise, arrests of juveniles for alleged property crimes in 2003 achieved their lowest point since mid-1970s (Snyder, 2005).

Notwithstanding what juvenile arrest data tells us, public polls show growing concern about youth violence. Contrary to the vast majority of political and legislative responses to youth crime, polls demonstrate continuing support for the juvenile court's rehabilitation goals and preferences for community-based programming and early intervention over imprisonment (Haugen, Costello, Schwartz, Krisberg, & Litsky 1982; Moon, Sundt, Cullen, & Wright 2000; Schwartz, Guo, & Kerbs 1992).

Coupled with the concern over youth violence is the argument over the appropriate balance between rehabilitation and punishment in the juvenile court. According to Feld (1993), the recent trend is to de-emphasize rehabilitation and increase attention to public safety. These debates seem to lose sight of the practical reality that all of these youth, even if temporarily incarcerated in some faraway rural institution, will return to and live in our communities. Attention should be on those programs, policies, and services that effectively, efficiently, and humanely achieve legal conformity. Effective programming that reduces the reoccurrence of delinquent or criminal behavior is fiscally sound policy.

Another important issue facing the court is its class, gender, and racial bias. The research record documenting differential treatment for juveniles of each of these statuses is mixed (for example, see Johnson & Scheuble [1991]; Phillips & Dinitz [1982]; Sampson & Laub [1993]; Staples [1987]). It is hard to ignore the fact, however, that most, if not all, juvenile institutions hold a disproportionately high percentage of ethnic minorities and low-income youth. Whether this outcome is the result of discriminatory practices by court officials or the consequence of a malfunctioning society, it must be addressed if the concept of justice is to be associated with the juvenile court.

Effectiveness of Juvenile Courts

While it is nearly impossible to assess the effectiveness of the juvenile court as a whole, researchers study various programs and policies to see how well they work. There is not enough space here to report on all of this research and fairly represent its findings and intricate methodologies, but a brief summary is presented.

In a review essay, Gibbons (1999) traced the debate over the last 50 years surrounding the effectiveness of treatment programs for delinquents. As he recounts, into the 1980s the conclusion was “that as far as correctional treatment is concerned, nothing works or, at best, not much works” (p. 275). The research record has grown and research methodologies are more sophisticated, to a point where, according to Gibbons, researchers in the late 1980s and into the 1990s are more optimistic about the effectiveness of treatment. Concerning treatment programs for juvenile offenders, Gibbons says “that we are now a good deal better off with respect to knowledge about what works than was true even a decade ago” (p. 280), but “there is much that remains somewhat cloudy” (p. 283).

The research on the effectiveness of the juvenile court, while promising, remains inconclusive. Granted, the interventions are complex, and many studies lack scientific rigor, but there is little argument that too many youth handled by the juvenile court eventually reoffend. A major challenge for the court—its future might depend on it—is to increase the effectiveness of its programs. Social workers can and should provide the leadership to insure that policies and program are informed by evidence and rigorous evaluation rather than by fear, politics, and superstition seem to be the primary drivers.

Future Trends and Directions

An obvious conclusion is that the juvenile court has not satisfied society's expectations. This viewpoint does not ask, however, if its goals are reasonable. Also, few argue the funding of the court is adequate. Where does that leave us, especially since prior reform efforts have been thwarted or co-opted in some way? We are left with the immense and complex social problems of delinquency, abuse and neglect, and the need to reform the juvenile court or start over with something new.

Recent proposals have been made to abolish juvenile court jurisdiction over delinquent youth. Feld (1993) argues that since Gault, the distinctions between the juvenile and criminal courts have practically disappeared, except for certain procedural deficiencies, and that handling juveniles in criminal court makes more sense. He adds that in his proposal, juveniles would be sentenced differently than adults (that is, leniently). Even those who disagree with this recommendation are in agreement that the court punishes but does not treat and that fewer legal safeguards are available to accused youth than to adults (Rosenberg, 1993).

Krisberg and Austin (1993) argue that the juvenile court needs to be “reinvented” by a series of measures. First, delinquency should be viewed as a public health issue primarily to encourage prevention, to avoid a moralistic approach, and to explore environmental, nonpsychological factors associated with delinquency. Second, juvenile justice programs and policies need to be based on what is known about adolescent development. Next, the court must do a better job protecting the legal rights of youth. Finally, a more integrated social service delivery system needs to be developed so that a complete view of a youth's needs is accomplished and the requisite services are easily accessible without categorical hurdles.

Restructuring, consolidation, increased funding, or new social interventions are not likely to solve one of the court's major problems, however. “For the most part, juvenile courts are seen as unimportant, low-status enterprises within the nation's legal system” (Bearrows et al., 1987, p. 50). It also seems to be true that programs for delinquents are low priority in the social service system when one sees how poorly they compete for funds against other, sometimes more popular, client groups.

The juvenile court has been an incredibly resilient social institution for over 100 years, always criticized, but little changed. Whatever the future of the juvenile court, its replacement, or its reinvention, social workers can and should play major roles shaping and implementing the many facets of tomorrow's court. They should neither be too optimistic nor resigned about the probability of change, for those with power rarely relinquish it easily. In the case of the juvenile court, judges and prosecutors exercise very broad discretion, and they will fight to maintain it. Change strategies must take this into account if there is any chance of success. One element of the recommended reform strategy is to endeavor to increase the accountability of judges and prosecutors for the outcomes of their actions, just as society wishes youth to be accountable for theirs.


While writing this section, a very important social work educator and researcher passed away. Robert Vinter, Professor Emeritus at the University of Michigan, died on Christmas Day, 2006. He made significant research contributions in juvenile justice, conducting the National Assessment of Juvenile Corrections among many other publications. The President's Committee on Juvenile Delinquency, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as well as the Department of Justice frequently sought his advice. I dedicate this entry to the memory of Professor Vinter.


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                                                    Mennel, R. M. (1973). Thorns and thistles: Juvenile delinquents in the United States 1825–1940. Hanover, NH: The University Press of New England.Find this resource:

                                                      Minor, K. I., Wells, J. B., Soderstrom, I. R., Bingham, R., & Williamson, D. (1999). Sentence completion and recidivism among juveniles referred to teen courts. Crime and Delinquency, 45(4), 467–480.Find this resource:

                                                        Moon, M. M., Sundt, J. L., Cullen, F. T., & Wright, J. P. (2000). Is child saving dead? Public support for juvenile rehabilitation. Crime and Delinquency, 46(1), 38–60.Find this resource:

                                                          Phillips, C. D., & Dinitz, S. (1982). Labeling and juvenile court dispositions: Official responses to a cohort of violent juveniles. The Sociological Quarterly, 23, 267–278.Find this resource:

                                                            Platt, A. (1977). The child savers: The invention of delinquency (2nd ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Find this resource:

                                                              Roberts, A. R., & Brownell, P. (1999). A century of forensic social work: Bridging the past to the present. Social Work, 44(4), 359–369.Find this resource:

                                                                Rodriguez, N., & Webb, V. J. (2004). Multiple measures of juvenile drug court effectiveness: Results of a quasi-experimental design. Crime and Delinquency, 50(2), 292–314.Find this resource:

                                                                  Roper v. Simmons, 125 S. Ct. 1183 (2005).Find this resource:

                                                                    Rosenberg, I. M. (1993). Leaving bad enough alone: A response to the juvenile court abolitionists. Wisconsin Law Review, 163–185.Find this resource:

                                                                      Rosenheim, M. K. (2002). A century of juvenile justice. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Find this resource:

                                                                        Rubin, H. T. (1991). Child and family legal proceedings: Court structure, statutes, and rules. In M. Hofford (Ed.), Families in court (pp. 25–62). Reno, NV: The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges.Find this resource:

                                                                          Sampson, R. J., & Laub, J. H. (1993). Structural variations in juvenile court processing: Inequality, the underclass, and social control. Law & Society Review, 27(2), 285–311.Find this resource:

                                                                            Schwartz, I., Guo, S., & Kerbs, J. (1992). Public attitudes toward juvenile crime and juvenile justice: Implications for public policy. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, Center for the Study of Youth Policy.Find this resource:

                                                                              Sloan, J. J., III, & Smykla, J. O. (2003). Juvenile drug courts: Understanding the importance of dimensional variability. Criminal Justice Policy Review, 14(3), 339–360.Find this resource:

                                                                                Snyder, H. N. (2005). Juvenile arrests 2003. Juvenile justice bulletin. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.Find this resource:

                                                                                  Staples, W. G. (1987). Law and social control in juvenile justice dispositions. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 24(1), 7–22.Find this resource:

                                                                                    Sutton, J. R. (1985). The juvenile court and social welfare: Dynamics of progressive reform. Law & Society Review, 19(1), 107–145.Find this resource:

                                                                                      Vinter, R. D. (1967). The juvenile court as an institution. In President's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice, Task Force on Juvenile Delinquency, Task Force Report: Juvenile Delinquency and Youth Crime: Report on Juvenile Justice and Consultants' Papers, pp. 84–90.Find this resource:

                                                                                        Youngclarke, D., Ramos, K. D., & Granger-Merkle, L. (2004). A systematic review of the impact of court appointed special advocates. Journal of the Center for Families, Children and the Courts, 5, 109–126.Find this resource:

                                                                                          Zimring, F. E. (2005). American juvenile justice. New York: Oxford University Press.Find this resource:

                                                                                            Further Reading

                                                                                            Austin, J., Elms, W., Krisberg, B., & Steele, P. A. (1991). Unlocking juvenile corrections: Evaluating the Massachusetts Department of Youth Services. San Francisco: National Council on Crime and Delinquency.Find this resource:

                                                                                              Austin, J., Joe, K., Krisberg, B., & Steele, P. A. (1990). The impact of juvenile court sanctions: A court that works. San Francisco: National Council on Crime and Delinquency.Find this resource:

                                                                                                Champion, D. J., & Mays, G. L. (1991). Transferring juveniles to criminal courts: Trends and implications for criminal justice. New York: Praeger.Find this resource:

                                                                                                  Ezell, M. (1992). Juvenile diversion: The ongoing search for alternatives. In I. M. Schwartz (Ed.), Juvenile Justice and Public Policy (pp. 45–58). New York: Lexington Books.Find this resource:

                                                                                                    Garcia, P. A. (2001). Unified family courts: Justice delivered. Chicago: American Bar Association's Office of Justice Initiatives.Find this resource:

                                                                                                      Hasenfeld, Y. (1983). Human service organizations. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.Find this resource:

                                                                                                        Hasenfeld, Y., & Cheung, P. P. L. (1985). The juvenile court as a people-processing organization: A political economy perspective. American Journal of Sociology, 90(4), 801–824.Find this resource:

                                                                                                          Lerman, P. (1984). Child welfare, the private sector, and community-based corrections. Crime and Delinquency, 30, 5–38.Find this resource:

                                                                                                            Pettibone, J. M., Swisher, R. G., Weiland, K. H., Wolf, C. E., & White, J. L. (1981). Major issues in juvenile justice information and training: Services to children in juvenile courts: The judicial-executive controversy. Columbus, OH: Academy for Contemporary Problems.Find this resource:

                                                                                                              Wald, M. (1975). State intervention on behalf of “neglected” children: A search for realistic standards. Stanford Law Review, 27, pp. 985–1040.Find this resource: