Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2023, $866,309)
Decades of research have demonstrated the harmful consequences of legal system involvement for youth. Despite this understanding, far too many U.S. children, especially Black children, continue to be referred to the juvenile legal system. In Allegheny County, Pennsylvania – the county where Pittsburgh is located – Black boys are 7 times more likely than White boys, and Black girls 8 times more likely than White girls, to be referred to the juvenile legal system. The proposed study will evaluate the implementation and initial impact of a community-led, countywide pre-arrest juvenile diversion initiative - called Caring Connections for Youth (CC4Y) - intended to reduce these disparities through a 24-hour centralized call center that provides triage and de-escalation guidance and connects young people and their families with community resources and supports.
Developed through a long-term partnership and community-engaged research process to understand the source of extremely high rates of racial and ethnic disproportionality (R/ED) in referrals to the juvenile legal system in Allegheny County, this diversion initiative is based on the finding that Black youth were being referred for behaviors that could be addressed outside of the legal system, but school officials, police, and community members lacked knowledge of and a means to connect youth with services and supports. This study will address the following research question: Can community-led, countywide policy change that increases access to resources and supports for youth and families reduce R/ED in juvenile citations, arrests, and referrals to the legal system?
University researchers will collaborate with Gwen’s Girls and the Black Girls Equity Alliance to evaluate CC4Y using primary data collection (surveys and interviews with youth and service providers), CC4Y administrative data, and systems data available in the Allegheny County Department of Human Services Data Warehouse. This rigorous implementation evaluation will provide a means to document and refine the initiative and to assess usage, acceptability, and feasibility. We will examine the effects of the CC4Y intervention on short-term outcomes (community awareness of CC4Y), intermediate outcomes (referrals to CC4Y and youth/family connections to resources and supports), and long-term outcomes (reduction/elimination of R/ED in juvenile citations, arrests, and legal system referrals). The research team will produce an implementation manual for others seeking to replicate this community-led process of policy change to develop and launch a pre-arrest juvenile diversion initiative, as well as community and policy reports, peer-reviewed articles, webinars, and research briefs for dissemination to researchers, policymakers, and practitioners. CA/NCF
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