NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Data analyzed by a Vanderbilt University student suggests children who enter the Juvenile Justice court system as parties to adult cases are more likely to come back later as juvenile delinquents.
Vanderbilt student Brett Richey analyzed the data for her senior thesis. She looked at data from 2003 and found more than one out of four children who are brought to court through no fault of their own will later come back as juveniles facing charges.
“I was shocked by what I found,” said Richey. “It was something that was talked about a lot in the court. People who work with these children every day know that is true but it had never been really studied empirically before.”
Richey found that 28.4% of all children who entered the court system in 2003 were later charged as older juveniles. 30% of those children in 2003 were abused and 35% were neglected.
The biggest factor was educational neglect. According to Richey’s data, 55% of children who were brought to court because their guardians prevented them from going to school were later charged as juvenile delinquents.
Only 3% of juvenile delinquents had never been to court prior because of their parents.
“Those are incredible amounts of children and it shows the court really has a chance to intervene where it’s really necessary,” said Richey. “A lot of them had pretty significant, traumatic experiences or really tough upbringings as evidence by the work that I performed. I really hope that by addressing those issues we can cut down on juvenile delinquency.”
The Juvenile Justice Center says it has several tactics in place to intervene when a family enters the court system. It will provide mental health services, mentors and other diversion programs with the hope that the child involved in the case won’t come back.
“Just because they’ve suffered those traumatic experiences early on doesn’t mean it’s a lost cause,” said Brad Edwards, the JJC’s foster care supervisor. “We all do have to work together as a community to help them from committing these delinquent acts and help them along the way and mentor.”
Edwards knows first-hand how traumatic childhood experiences can harm someone. He was poor and had to steal to eat. He say teachers and good foster parents intervened at the right time.
“A child is not able to develop if they’re suffering those childhood experiences so they act out later in life rather than dealing with things appropriately,” he said. “Thankfully my foster parents encouraged us with education and I had teachers who took me under their wing.”
He says children who are prevented from going to school are more likely to miss out on mentors and skills one learns from interacting with others. The JJC has an assessment team in place to help children who may be struggling so they are able to move beyond their trauma.