As a result of the recent increase in the age of juvenile court jurisdiction at the lower end to 12 for purposes of adjudicating juvenile delinquency, Senator Brownsberger’s office has received a number of inquiries as to how the court system, a school system, or other entities might respond to problematic behaviors by a child under the age of 12. Below you will find a non-exhaustive list of responses by the system to a child’s problematic behaviors. Both public institutions and private parties have a number of tools at their disposal in responding to problematic youth behavior.
Child Welfare Proceedings
A parent, a legal guardian, or a custodian with custody of a child may file a CRA application with the juvenile court for a child who repeatedly runs away from home or for a stubborn child who repeatedly refuses to obey the lawful and reasonable commands of the child’s parent, legal guardian, or custodian, leading to an inability to protect and care for the child adequately.
A parent, a legal guardian, a custodian with custody of a child, or a law enforcement officer may file a CRA application for a sexually exploited child.
In response to a CRA application, the juvenile court’s clerk-magistrate must first refer the applicant to family resource centers operated by the Executive Office of Health and Human Services. A judge can decide to dismiss the case for lack of “probable cause”, to refer the child and parent with their agreement to a probation officer for informal assistance, or to accept the application for CRA and schedule a fact-finding hearing.
CRA proceedings can result in the provision of community-based services or a change in custody of the child.
Care and Protection Proceedings
Any person over 18 may file a care and protection case, a court proceeding in which a juvenile court judges makes a determination whether a child has been or is at risk of serious abuse or neglect by a caretaker, usually a parent or guardian. Most child and protection cases are filed by the Department of Children and Families, generally following the receipt of a 51A report, a report alleging abuse or neglect by the caretaker. A 51A report can be filed by anyone who suspects abuse or neglect and can be anonymous. Mandatory reporters who suspect a child is being abused or neglected must file a 51A report.
A parent or guardian of a child can file a CRA application for egregious behavior that would have been subject to a juvenile delinquency proceeding had the child been old enough- and if the parent is unwilling to do so, another party could file a care and protection petition.
A care and protection petition can result in the removal of a child from his parent or guardian if the judge believes that removal is necessary to protect the child from harm.
Involvement of the Juvenile Court Clinics
The juvenile court clinics may become involved upon referral by the juvenile court to provide evaluations, referrals, limited intervention services and follow-up services.
As noted above, in certain circumstances, a school could respond to problematic student behavior by filing a CRA application (or if concerned about the parents or guardians, a care and protection petition). Schools also have the opportunity to employ the full range of disciplinary and behavior management tools at their disposal to respond to problematic student behavior.
Citizen Responses to Inadequate Responses by School District
If a citizen felt that a school was not adequately protecting the civil rights of a student who was being targeted by another student’s problematic behavior, that citizen could file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, with the Attorney General’s Office, or with the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s Program Quality Assurance (by engaging with their Problem Resolution System).
Mental Health Services
The Department of Mental Health provides services and supports to children, youth and families with serious emotional disturbance. A child could also receive private counseling; under federal and state mental health parity laws, most insured Americans are entitled to mental health benefits on a comparable level to benefits for other health conditions.
Private parties, of course, may also step in to provide assistance to a child or family. Community organizations, family members, and faith communities may organize a response to a child’s problematic behaviors.
Additional Resources for Dealing with Problematic Sexual Behavior in Children
We were referred to the following resources by Joan Tabachnick, who has worked in the field of sexual abuse prevention for twenty years:
Stop It Now! has a helpline and other resources for parents and other adults who live with or work with children or youth with problematic sexual behaviors.
Anne Johnson Landry
Chief Counsel, Office of Senator Brownsberger