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AB 12: more placement options for juvenile courts

Gov. Brown's proposal to phase-out DJF entirely starting with no new commitments as of January 1, 2013, has many California counties worried about what to do with their most high risk youth, especially the few counties whose juvenile facilities are nearing capacity.  The perceived lack of alternatives has many counties' prosecutors thinking their only option will be to directly transfer this population to adult court.  However, there are in fact many local options for handling youth that would have otherwise been sent to DJF; ranging from secure juvenile hall placements to residential placement.

Residential placement, unlocked facilities licensed by the state, can range from small 6 bed facilities accessing services in the community to large campus-style facilities with on-site schools, ranging in security and treatment levels. There are currently over 150 residential treatment centers and group homes throughout the state, encompassing a wide variety of services including special education, mental health, therapeutic, recreation, and transition planning.  While people may have traditionally thought of these as placements for dependent youth or for low-level offenders, there are dozens of licensed and accredited facilities fully equipped to serve this population, some specifically stating they accept "difficult-to-place youth." 

As of January 1, 2012, a revised bill, Assembly Bill 12 (AB 12) also referred to as The California Fostering Connections to Success Act, gives youth the opportunity to remain in a placement passed their 19th birthday, as long as they were ordered placement prior to their 18th birthday.   

Here is a breakdown of the bill:
As of January 1, 2012, AB 12 gives licensed and approved placements the choice to extend the stay for wards, allowing foster youth and eligible probation wards to remain in foster care after age 18, continuing to receive foster care benefits and services.  By 2013, youths will be able to remain in placement until their 20th birthday, and possibly their 21st birthday by 2014.  All residential placements in California were given the option to participate and many have already done so voluntarily.

This bill was enacted to provide ensure transition age youth support as they enter into adulthood and independent living.  If the judge or probation officer decides the youth is not ready to be released from placement, the judge can now order the youth to remain in placement until they have completed their rehabilitation.  Eligibility status is usually discussed in a hearing 6-months prior to the youth's 18th birthday.  

Another major component of this bill is to give the youth a choice to opt-in to extended foster care.  This is outlined in Assembly Bill 212, a bill enacted as part of AB 12 in order to ease the reentry process for youth with fewer options upon release.  It creates "a new jurisdictional status for youth" called transition jurisdiction, allowing youthful offenders who have completed their "rehabilitative goals" in placement, to remain or re-enter a residential placement if they choose.  This can take various forms: residing in their current placement, a transitional home, or entering a county-approved Supervised Independent Living placement either at a college dorm, apartment or even renting a room from a friend or relative.  Social workers visit the youth monthly and conduct a readiness assessment of the youth prior to this type of placement.  Therefore, even after their terms of probation have ceased, the youth can decide if they want extended stay by entering a mutual agreement with the judge. See text of AB 12 and information specific to probation youth or details of eligibility and age requirements.   
 
Eliminating the option of DJF does not have to mean fewer options for California's high-risk population (approximately 1,000 youth) nor take away from treatment of youthful offenders already served at the county level.  Because of AB 12, juvenile courts may now be more inclined to place 17 or 18-year-old youthful offenders into specific residential placements knowing they will be able to remain there for at least two more years if needed.   This provides prosecutors with some leeway for imposing longer placements when deemed necessary for public safety.  As is the case in California, some counties have been more proactive than others in implementing this bill; therefore, educating both youth and juvenile justice practitioners across the state is necessary.   

Thank you to Paula Ensele at the California Department of Social Services for providing additional information regarding AB 12. 

Keywords: best practices, community corrections, DJF/DJJ, Emily Luhrs, foster care

Posted in Blog, Realignment, Juvenile Justice

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