poverty is not as simple as gaining economic traction. Overlapping needs can reinforce
one another to bind the web of poverty ever tighter. The good news is that research
on assessment practices in child welfare, juvenile justice, and adult
recidivism can yield critical lessons for poverty fighters hoping to address
the many ways that poverty affects people’s lives. Through this work, practitioners
have developed a better understanding of how poverty is associated with
increased entry into social service systems—and how agencies can make a
anyone who cares about reducing poverty, it’s essential to understand the deep
linkages between poverty among children and adults and subsequent entry into the
social service and justice systems. The grim truth is that children in poverty
face an increased likelihood of entering child protective services and the
juvenile justice system. Similarly, adults in poverty are more likely to enter
the criminal justice and adult protective services systems.
of whether individuals and families exit poverty, its impact endures.
Individuals may be incarcerated or facing the challenges of reentry into the
community; parents must work to reunite with children in foster care; juvenile-justice-involved
teens need services and treatment to right their paths.
Working with public and private partners, our
organization, the National Council on Crime and Delinquency (NCCD), and others
collaborate with social service agencies to place a greater emphasis on data.
This includes using actuarial research to improve caseworker decision making
and assessment practices, and analyzing agency data to help agencies monitor
their clients’ outcomes and learn more about the populations they serve so that
they can work with them effectively.
our work in Michigan and Wisconsin, for example, we know that when agencies
identify their highest risk clients – and target resources to help them – they
have the greatest impact. Studies in adult and juvenile corrections and child
welfare have demonstrated that active service intervention with high risk
clients can reduce criminal recidivism and the recurrence of child
Because the effects of poverty often take hold early in
life, targeting resources based on a family’s risk level can make a big
difference in child welfare. For example, evidence suggests that actuarial risk
assessments have greater reliability and classification power than
Based on this research, groups like NCCD have developed
decision-support systems for child protective services that are used across the
nation and around the world. In just a single jurisdiction where we have worked,
the number of children in out-of-home care was reduced by 68 percent, while the
rate of children being reunified within 12 months of removal increased by
almost 20 percent.
second key area for which we need a greater emphasis on research-based practice
is juvenile justice. The truth is that many of the children who wind up in the
juvenile justice system or the adult criminal justice system may have been
abused or neglected in the past.
Unfortunately, many assessment systems
currently used by juvenile justice practitioners have little evidence to
support any relationship to outcomes, making it difficult to use them as guides
for serving youth. To ameliorate this evidence gap, NCCD is currently
conducting research in several states to help us learn more about the strengths
and weaknesses of current juvenile justice assessment systems.
it’s not just among children that poverty and criminal justice intersect. Adult
incarceration is one of the most daunting obstacles to long-term,
family-sustaining employment. Time spent incarcerated means separation not just
from family and community but from opportunities for legal and stable sources
with children, adults need a corrections assessment and case management system
that can demonstrably reduce recidivism while also providing greater equity in
assessment and supervision across gender, racial, and ethnic groups. NCCD hopes to conduct further research on
the validity of assessment systems currently used in adult corrections in order
to add needed data to the field.
and others in the field also study disproportionate minority contact with the
child welfare and criminal justice systems, examining ways that these systems
interact with racial and ethnic groups. This will help move us toward practice
that is fair, equitable, and more effective at helping individuals and families
there is much still to learn in all three of these areas, we at NCCD believe
that it is vital to approach the complex nature of poverty with a comprehensive
view of social science research.
one initiative is enough to untangle, examine, and loosen the constricting web
of poverty. We must pay attention to every aspect of life that contributes to
poverty, that complicates the ability of families to get out of it, and that
creates ongoing challenges for those who experience it.
To print a PDF version of this document, click here.
Alexander Busansky is the president of the
National Council on Crime and Delinquency.