On Monday, August 9th from 2 – 4 pm, SB 292, the Child Protection and Public Safety Act (more commonly known as the juvenile code rewrite bill) will be the subject of a public hearing down at the Capitol. Specifically Article 6, Children in Need of Services (aka CHINs) will be discussed.  Monday’s hearing is particularly noteworthy as it will be the first time we have had a public discussion about this new approach for intervening with kids who are currently considered “unruly” under Georgia law (more commonly known as status offenders). CHINs include children who have committed acts that would not be against the law but for the fact that they are under the age of 18, such as skipping school, running away from home, and violating curfew (status offenses).  CHINs also includes children and youth who are “habitually disobedient” to their parents and place themselves or others in unsafe circumstances through their behavior.

Under current law, court intervention with these kids is similar to intervention in delinquency cases, even though court involvement and responses like detention tend to exacerbate the problems that first led families to seek help.  Current research and best practices now suggest that youth and families in crisis require a faster response than courts can offer and that juvenile justice systems are often ill-equipped to provide the services these youth and families need.  Under Article 6, SB 292 creates a more holistic, service-oriented approach to these kinds of cases.  The CHINs framework acknowledges that these sorts of behaviors happen within the context of the family and school environment that the child is in, and that the involvement of the family and other important people in the child’s life is important to protect the child and help him or her become responsible member of society.  The key is implementing immediate, family focused alternatives to court intervention by referring young people and their families to services in their communities and use the juvenile justice system as a last resort.  Florida, New York and Connecticut have had successful reforms of their status offense systems under this new paradigm.  You can read their case studies in “Making Court the Last Resort:  A New Focus for Supporting Families in Crisis.”   I welcome the opportunity to discuss CHINs and how it can help troubled youth and their families here in Georgia.

Julia Neighbors, Project Manager-JUSTGeorgia

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