Unaccompanied Youth and Private-Public Order Failures

Author:Jordan Blair Woods
Position:Assistant Professor of Law, University of Arkansas School of Law, Fayetteville
Pages:1639-1709
SUMMARY

Each year, approximately 1.7 million "unaccompanied youth" under the age of 18 live on their own in homelessness or in other unstable living conditions. Many of these youth ran away or were kicked out of their families or child welfare placements. Others became homeless upon or soon after being released from juvenile detention. As this Article describes, the government responds to unaccompanied... (see full summary)

 
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1639
Unaccompanied Youth and
Private–Public Order Failures
Jordan Blair Woods
ABSTRACT: Each year, approximately 1.7 million “unaccompanied youth”
under the age of 18 live on their own in homelessness or in other unstable
living conditions. Many of these youth ran away or were kicked out of their
families or child welfare placements. Others became homeless upon or soon
after being released from juvenile detention.
As this Article describes, the government responds to unaccompanied youth
through a complex web of family-centered interventions in both the child
welfare and the juvenile justice systems. Child welfare responses adopt a view
of unaccompanied youth as victims of negative family circumstances and
respond by altering their family environments—first through attempting to
repair the biological family relationship, and when that is not possible, by
providing youth substitute families through foster care and adoption. When
those family-centered approaches are not working, juvenile justice laws and
law enforcement policies and practices pressure unaccompanied youth to
reunite with their families (whether biological, foster, or adoptive) and allow
for their arrest and detention. In this regard, the government adopts a very
different view of unaccompanied youth as delinquent offenders when they do
not fit into family systems.
Assistant Professor of Law, University of Arkansas School of Law, Fayetteville. I am
thankful for the helpful suggestions from Tendayi Achiume, Alena Allen, Michèl e Alexandre,
Erez Aloni, Nicole L. Asquith, William W. Berry III, Alexander Boni-Saenz, Tammy Castle,
Maureen Carroll, Steve Clowney, Beth Colgan, Sarah Davis, Maxine Eichner, Will Foster, Sharon
Foster, Brian Gallini, Carol Goforth, Sara Gosman, Christopher Green, Meredith Harbach, Irene
Oritseweyinmi Joe, Sarah Katz, Gwendolyn Leachman, Stacy Leeds, Elizabeth MacDowell, Nancy
Marcus, Jonathan Marshfield, Kaiponanea Matsumura, Tiffany Murphy, Cynthia Nance, Douglas
NeJaime, Jack Nowlin, Vanessa Panfil, Susannah Pollvogt, Laurent Sacharoff, Tim Tarvin, Alan
Trammell, Jace L. Valcore, and Brandon Weiss. I am also grateful for the feedback that I received
at the 2016 Family Law Scholars and Teachers Conference, the Critical Intersections of Crime
and Social Justice Conference, 2016 Midwest Law and Society Retreat, an d faculty workshops at
the University of Arkansas School of Law, University of Mississippi School of Law, and University
of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law. I also wish to thank the University of Arkansas
School of Law library staff, and especially Lorraine Kay Lorne, for their research assistance. Thank
you to the editors and staff at the Iowa Law Review for their careful edits, insightful suggestions,
and hard work.
1640 IOWA LAW REVIEW [Vol. 103:1639
This Article shows that unaccompanied youth whose needs are not served
under family-centered child welfare responses are ultimately left vulnerable to
entering a destructive cycle of homelessness and involvement in the juvenile
and criminal justice systems. It further argues that the experiences of
unaccompanied youth, and unaccompanied LGBTQ youth in particular,
demonstrate the limits of the family-centered approach as a wholesale or
comprehensive solution to the child welfare needs of adolescent youth. The
shortcomings of this approach illustrate a need for a paradigm shift in child
welfare law and policy (and relatedly, juvenile justice law and policy) that
places greater emphasis on non-family-centered approaches to serve vulnerable
youth in need of help from the state, especially late-adolescent youth. Under
this new framework, child welfare law and policy responses would
conceptualize the agency and autonomy of unaccompanied youth in positive
and empowering terms, and provide greater space for support systems, skills,
and resources outside of family systems to help them achieve self-reliance and
self-actualization as adults.
I.INTRODUCTION ........................................................................... 1641
II. THEORIES OF UNACCOMPANIED YOUTH STATUS ........................ 1651
A.STRUCTURAL THEORIES ......................................................... 1652
1.Family Factors .............................................................. 1652
2.Economic Factors ........................................................ 1652
3.Social and Cultural Factors ......................................... 1654
B.DEFICIENT-AGENCY THEORIES ................................................ 1657
1.“Bad Kids” .................................................................... 1658
2.“Carefree Kids” ............................................................ 1659
3.“Sick Kids” .................................................................... 1659
III. CHILD WELFARE SYSTEM RESPONSES TO UNACCOMPANIED
YOUTH ........................................................................................ 1661
A.FAMILY-CENTERED PUBLIC REORDERING IN THE CHILD
WELFARE SYSTEM .................................................................. 1662
1.Historical Background ................................................ 1662
2.Contemporary Child Welfare Responses to
Unaccompanied Youth ............................................... 1667
B.CRITICISMS OF FAMILY-CENTERED PUBLIC REORDERING IN
THE CHILD WELFARE SYSTEM ................................................ 1671
1.Assumptions About the Agency and Autonomy
of Unaccompanied Youth .......................................... 1674
2.The “Traditional” Family and Child Welfare
Exclusions .................................................................... 1678
2018] UNACCOMPANIED YOUTH 1641
IV. JUVENILE JUSTICE SYSTEM RESPONSES TO UNACCOMPANIED
YOUTH ........................................................................................ 1683
A.FAMILY-CENTERED PUBLIC REORDERING IN THE JUVENILE
JUSTICE SYSTEM .................................................................... 1683
1.Unaccompanied Youth as Delinquent Offenders:
Arrest, Institutionalization, and Other Sanctions ..... 1684
i.Historical Background ............................................. 1684
ii.Contemporary Juvenile Justice Responses to
Unaccompanied Youth ............................................. 1687
2.Unaccompanied Youth as Crime Victims: Public
Funding for Unaccompanied Youth Programs
and Services ................................................................. 1692
B.CRITICISMS OF FAMILY-CENTERED PUBLIC REORDERING IN
THE JUVENILE JUSTICE SYSTEM .............................................. 1697
V. IMPLICATIONS AND FUTURE DIRECTIONS ................................... 1703
VI.CONCLUSION .............................................................................. 1709
I. INTRODUCTION
Consider the story of a teenager named Jack.1 During his senior year of
high school, Jack told his family that he was gay.2 At the time, Jack was living
with his mother and her new boyfriend, who became abusive and did not
accept Jack’s sexuality.3 Jack’s mom was not ready to end the relationship, but
wanted to find a safe home for him.4 She discovered a transitional living
program, which provided a supervised community living environment to
youth between the ages of 16 and 22 who were homeless or at risk of
becoming homeless.5 The program also helped youth build necessary life
skills to live independently as adults.6 Jack entered the program, stayed in
school, maintained a GPA in the top ten percent of his graduating class, and
got accepted to college.7
Jack’s success story, however, is rare. A teenager in Jack’s situation is more
likely to follow a path like Tracey’s.8 After Tracey told his family that he was
1. This story is adapted from real-life events. See Success Stories, STOPOVER, http://stopover
inc.org/services (last visited Mar. 14, 2018).
2. Id.
3. Id.
4. Id.
5. Id.
6. Id.
7. Id.
8. See GERALD P. MALLON, WE DONT EXACTLY GET THE WELCOME WAGON: THE
EXPERIENCES OF GAY AND LESBIAN ADOLESCENTS IN CHILD WELFARE SYSTEMS 111 (1998).

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