This article highlights a promising program being implemented in northern Minnesota. The counties and tribes are working collaboratively to meet the needs of dual status youth (juveniles who come into contact with both child welfare and juvenile justice systems). This model is being applied in a few other places around the country and may be a model for other counties and tribes to consider.
Way up in northwestern Minnesota, progress is being made within the Ojibwe tribes.
“It’s been a long process,” said Trisha Hansen, Bemidji District supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Corrections. “… It was a tough two years, let me tell you. Probation and social services have really worked together in the last two years.”
Since September, the traditional divisions between the systems of juvenile justice and child welfare have begun to be erased.
With a tribal nation contained within the county, the separations are doubled.
The ultimate goal is to integrate tribal, federal, state and local services for culturally appropriate services and to run juvenile delinquency prevention programs within the community rather than off-reservation.
“I anticipate great results,” said national consultant John Tuell. The goal is to “overcome this mess we’ve created with this separation between child welfare and juvenile justice.” He is executive director of the Robert F. Kennedy National Resource Center for Juvenile Justice and RFK Children’s Action Corps, based in Boston.
One of the challenges, Hansen said, was figuring out the confidentiality parameters among the various agencies. She said the White Earth Nation in central Minnesota, which already uses the dual status youth strategies successfully, is helping them. White Earth Nation, also Ojibwe, is in Mahnomen County. It also uses county and tribal services and courts.
White Earth Court Administrator Lori Thompson said the tribe adopted the dually involved youth program about 18 months ago. She has worked with the White Earth court system since 2000.
Currently, she said, about 15 young people are in the program.
The strategies, she explained, increase interagency information-sharing and give families and youngsters more of a voice in dealing with the agencies. Benefits include early identification, connecting families and youth with services, “diverting youth from adjudication and court when feasible” and “promoting culturally valid intervention.”
Such interventions include beading and drumming, Thompson said. Young people are assigned to four hours of community involvement every two weeks, such as setting up chairs, serving food and cleaning up at meetings.
If a child commits an offense, Lind said, the process starts with the county attorney, who makes the initial decision of whether to charge the youngster. The county attorney also contacts county and tribal social services. Parents also meet with a social services worker and a probation officer, he said. Under the new program, these meetings would be conducted jointly, requiring less travel and saving time and money.
“White Earth has made a lot of progress,” Hansen said, citing the Circle Back Center in Ogema, Minn., on the White Earth Reservation. Circle Back Center clients can be referred through Indian Health Services, law enforcement, tribal court, county social services, tribal, county and state corrections, substance abuse programs and private entities or families.
Eligible clients are boys and girls ages 10-18 who have successfully completed alcohol or substance abuse treatment, those who lack a sober or safe home and those with behavior problems such as truancy, runaway and curfew violations. The center primarily accepts American Indian youth, but extends services to non-native youngsters if staff members consider them able to benefit from the program.