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Simplifying systems for youth in need

Jeremiah Jaggers, a new assistant professor in the College of Social Work, studies the connection between child welfare and involvement in the juvenile justice system.

Jeremiah Jaggers, a new assistant professor in the College of Social Work, didn’t start his career as a social worker. He was always interested in research—in trying to uncover and describe phenomena in new ways, but when he asked his professors what followed the research, the answer he got was “the next part of the research.”

That didn’t work for him.

“I wanted to put my research into action,” he said. “I wanted to have a larger impact with what I was doing.”

A colleague in the lab where he was working recommended social work as a place where his love of research and advocacy could work together.

Today, his research is focused on multi-system youth—youth who are involved in both the juvenile justice and the child welfare systems. There has been extensive research around the physical, emotional and psychological trauma youth experience in conjunction with abuse, as well as how that trauma affects delinquency. What hasn’t been studied is the connection between child welfare and involvement in the juvenile justice system.

Jaggers’ research asks questions such as, “How does being neglected, followed by placement in foster care or out of home placement, predict whether you will be truant or not? What about drug involvement?”

“There is not a lot of research on the interaction of child abuse and delinquency from a systemic perspective, so there is still a lot to be done,” he said.

It is the nexus of those systems that most interests Jaggers and has directed his research. Part of this research is about the basic nuts and bolts of how communication between government systems happen. Before coming to the U, Jaggers was part of a team at Indiana University that developed a framework for intensive case management and wraparound services for dual status youth for one of the local county systems.  This included:

  • The creation of a framework to facilitate communication between child welfare professionals, probation and juvenile court justices, improving legal communications for the families involved.
  • A technical piece enabling the two case management data systems to work together, even though they were two entirely separate systems.
  • An evaluation of these two communication systems, which ultimately led to a change in the structure of child welfare meetings and the inclusion of probation officers.

In talking about his research, Jaggers is hopeful.  “Better facilitation of this phenomena is on the horizon,” he said.

Districts and state government institutions are increasingly beginning to implement models that consider how to engage with youth between official points of system interaction in order to mitigate potential long-term obstacles.

“Youth who have been abused and are not involved with the legal systems may have special needs,” he said. “They might be dealing with trauma, lack of socialization from bouncing from one foster home to their parents, and other related attachment problems. Having caseworkers, probation officers and judges aware of that, I think, would be a huge step in helping to bring things together for better outcomes for those youth.”

Jaggers and a host of other scholars, clinicians, administrators and field supervision agents with wide-ranging expertise will be presenting the latest research and developments in criminal and juvenile justice later this month at the annual Utah Criminal Justice Conference.  Discounts for U students, faculty and staff are available.