At-Risk Youth Struggle Without Services Nationwide

Poorly resourced programs face challenges leading to adverse outcomes for vulnerable children.

According to a recent Stateline article, an audit published earlier this year by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that across 46 states, state agencies failed to report an estimated 34,800 cases of missing foster kids. These are cases that included children who ran away numerous times and the average age of these individuals was 15. Counties are no stranger to these challenges as every jurisdiction operates foster programs and works to coordinate resources for care.

Foster children are also more susceptible to exploitation and criminal coercion. Recently the discussion around the lack of services for youth offenders and at-risk youth has signaled potential changes to service delivery of diversion and intervention programs that are meant to keep these children from criminality and recidivism. The Maryland Department of Juvenile Services has come into specific focus for these improvements.

In a recent WTOP report, Deputy Secretary Lisa Garry shared that her agency is working on a three-pronged approach to deal with juvenile crime, prevention, intervention, and what she called “community transformation.” The third element of this strategy would focus on making more investments in “local resources and no longer doing these large, centralized state contracts that do not serve the local communities in a way that get you the results that you want.”

As previously covered on the Conduit Street blog, many of the resources to address the behavioral needs of at-risk youth are focused on community-based programs. This could create more opportunity to direct resources locally, rather than relying on centralized programing that is removed from the communities where kids live. Restoration within the community is found to have better long-term outcomes and keeps children connected to friends, family, and other networks of support. Accordingly the 2024 legislative session will likely see a number of bills looking to bolster service delivery for at-risk youth.