Wood's Homes Blog

Helping crossover youth: Why policy isn’t enough

January 22, 2020
By Jenna Passi, Wood's Homes Research Assistant
Helping crossover youth: Why policy isn’t enough

Have you ever been in a store where each employee that you ask for help has to go ask someone else about it? Maybe they have to call another department? Wait for the manager? This may only take a few minutes, but when I find myself in this situation I can’t help but wonder if things could be better organized to make the store more efficient.

Thinking back to when I was a youth and family counsellor at Wood’s Homes, versus the Research Assistant I am now, I would have a similar feeling when working with youth who were involved with Children’s Services and who also had current or historical involvement with the criminal justice system.

These youth are sometimes referred to as ‘crossover youth’ because they cross over between different government systems. In working with crossover youth, the question around efficiency becomes even more important. Efficiency should include: knowing who is in charge of different decisions, clear direction on how to communicate with workers from all involved systems, and perhaps most importantly, both systems working together to help direct treatment.

In my experience as a frontline staff, the ability for me to feel like I was working together with professionals from both Children’s Services and the Ministry of Justice was highly dependent on the individual workers themselves. Today, in my current role, I view the need for efficiency as a larger issue that requires these systems to think differently about how they could provide additional support to crossover youth.

A question you may have is, why do you care about the efficiency between government systems for crossover youth? You may be thinking that the clients who come into Wood’s Homes programs receive individualized care plans that reflect their needs. This is true, and definitely a great start. But we cannot forget the fact that ultimately Children’s Services and/or Ministry of Justice professionals are often the final decision makers on what will or won’t happen for a client’s treatment journey. This is critical because crossover youth have been identified as a particularly vulnerable group and research has begun to identify that these youth have increased likelihoods of negative outcomes.

As a matter of fact, in Wood’s Homes’ Strategic Plan 2018-2022, treatment programs for youth offenders with complex mental health needs were identified as a gap in service provision, and many of these youth are involved with Children’s Services. Sometimes everything comes full circle when you realize that inefficiency between multiple systems can result in the needs of crossover youth not being met. Simply put, when clients are crossing over between large systems important information can get dropped which impacts their treatment. This has, on occasion, created a challenge of trying to ensure that criminal justice and children’s services systems work together efficiently when a youth has involvement with both systems.

As an example, did you know that Alberta has a policy that should cover cases of crossover youth? It’s called the Youth Criminal Justice Protocol (YCJP), last updated in November 2013. The stated intent of the protocol is to create procedures that professionals within criminal justice and human services can follow to “work together collaboratively for the benefit of youth who have joint status.” As a researcher, I wonder if the policy is effective at meeting the needs of crossover youth. This ‘wondering’ on my part has little to do with my own observations, beliefs, or trust in our Ministries. Instead my curiosities have everything to do with the lack of carefully planned and executed follow-up research tailored to assess whether or not this policy is reaching its stated objectives. This is important because well-designed research can help support and advance policies that work, and can create space and direction for change when policies aren’t quite hitting their mark.

As an example of an initiative that had research built-in from the start, let’s take a look at the Crossover Youth Practice Model (CYPM) that is used in 23 different states within the United States. The model was designed by the Centre for Juvenile Justice Reform in tandem with Georgetown University. The CYPM is a great example of how an initiative can (and should) publicly share how the model was designed, identify and follow where the model has been implemented, and publish the results and outcomes from numerous studies on the model. Research on this model continued several years after implementation with the intention to learn from, and build on, the findings regarding successes and challenges. The findings included perspectives and outcomes from clients, their families, and the working professionals involved. Due to thorough research being an integral component in the implementation of the CYPM, the model has since been recognized as a practice that has promising research evidence through the California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare.       

The process around the CYPM shows how much growth and advancement is possible when initiatives are paired with research. If we want to better support crossover youth, then policies are not enough on their own. Research needs to be integrated from the beginning of these initiatives and have a role during and after implementation to guide the process towards the stated objective. The right changes could leave crossover youth, their families, and the professionals working with them feeling more supported with a clear path forward.

No more feeling lost in the store, because everyone is working together towards the same set of goals designed to support these complex cases.