Dual-System Youth: Mapping an Agenda for Research and Policy

Dual-System Youth: Mapping an Agenda for Research and Policy

December 7, 2023 | Evident Change

A group of happy teens talking in a park.

As many as half of young people who become involved with the youth justice system have previous involvement with the child welfare system—a group known as dual-system youth.1 Yet, as observed by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), “many jurisdictions lack even a culture of collaboration between child welfare services and juvenile justice, [which is] needed to identify and attend to the unique, complex needs of so-called dual-system youth—a vulnerable, high-risk population.”2

Young people in either system can face a higher likelihood of negative outcomes in life areas such as education, health, and socioeconomic mobility. The stakes are even higher for youth who have contact with both systems. Dual-system youth tend “to have longer histories in child welfare, more out-of-home placements, and higher recidivism than youth who experience the child welfare or juvenile justice system alone. … Overall, youth with protracted child welfare histories, including multiple placements outside of the home, tend to penetrate the juvenile justice system more deeply.”3

Inequity is also present, as “African Americans have a higher probability of dual-system youth status, as do females.”4

In the absence of a culture of collaboration—not to mention more codified types of partnerships, including data linkages and multisystem best practices—these two systems cannot function as effectively as they could to meet the needs of young people. Most notably, this absence is detrimental to the well-being of the young people the systems serve, and it affects the ability of professionals in these systems to do their best and most efficient work.

This is why last month Evident Change and the Juvenile Justice Research and Reform Lab at Drexel University convened a diverse group of 45 people to create a research agenda aimed at improving policy and practice related to how systems serve dual-system youth. The convening was planned and supported by advisory committee members Hernán Carvente-Martinez, Dr. Denise Herz, Dr. Giza Lopez, and Mark Soler.

Evident Change CEO Kathy Park, Professor and Lab Director Dr. Naomi Goldstein, and NIJ Director Dr. Nancy La Vigne welcomed participants to the convening, which was supported by the William T. Grant Foundation and the Jessie Ball duPont Fund. Panelists and participants included people with lived expertise in the systems who are using their knowledge and experience to spur dynamic careers in advocacy, law, philanthropy, and research.

During the convening on the Drexel campus, participants worked together for two days to generate ideas, distill themes, and create a vibrant research agenda. In the coming months, we will release a position paper to share this research agenda in hopes of galvanizing the funding community around supporting research in this area. We also hope this research agenda will inspire creative collaborations between organizations and people with lived expertise in pursuing these research topics.


1 Herz, D. C., & Dierkhising, C. B. (2019, March). OJJDP dual-system youth design study: Summary of findings and recommendations for pursuing a national system estimate of dual-system youth. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. https://www.ojp.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/grants/252717.pdf

2 Kelley, B. T., & Haskins, P. A. (2021, August 10). Dual-system youth: At the intersection of child maltreatment and delinquency. National Institute of Justice. https://nij.ojp.gov/topics/articles/dual-system-youth-intersection-child-maltreatment-and-delinquency

3 Ibidem.

4 Ibid.