A new issue brief released today by Kentucky Youth Advocates, Keep Kindergartners Out of Court: More Effective Responses to the Behavior of Young Children, highlights the importance of responding appropriately to young children who get in trouble to build safer communities and more successful kids.
“Kids whose favorite book is Green Eggs and Ham can be charged with a crime in Kentucky,” said Dr. Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates. “We need to hold kids accountable for mistakes, and we also need to recognize that what works for young kids is different than what works for older kids.”
In Kentucky between 2013 and 2015, children as young as four, five, and six years old had formal complaints filed against them.
“Young children don’t belong in the court room. Young children don’t belong in prison-like settings. Those options can actually backfire,” said Dr. Brooks.
The most practical solutions address root causes of behavior and prevent children from getting into trouble later in life. This could include mental health treatment for the child or family interventions.
“The youth brain works differently, and holding them to the same standards as adults does more harm than good to youth,” said Dr. John Sivley, a member of the Juvenile Justice Oversight Council with decades of experience providing behavioral health treatment to children and adolescents. “If the end goal is to stop the behavior, the research is clear. Punishment only suppresses behavior temporarily; treatment on the other hand changes behavior for the long term.”
In recent years, the number of young children who had charges filed against them has decreased. Yet, too many of those children – 43 percent – end up in the formal court process.
“For Kentucky’s youngest children, a courtroom, shackles and secure detention all work against the goals of the juvenile justice system: correcting behavior and preventing its recurrence,” said Senator Whitney Westerfield, Chair of the Kentucky Senate Judiciary Committee who will be filing a bill to address this issue and incorporate other more effective youth justice system responses during the 2017 General Assembly. “Establishing a minimum age of criminal responsibility demonstrates Kentucky’s commitment to addressing problem behavior in the most effective way.”
Common-sense, family-focused responses connect kids and families to the services they need to get kids back on track.
“We’ve seen progress through youth justice reforms in recent years with a decrease in charges against young kids, more kids getting connected to the services they need, and fewer kids being separated from their families. Real opportunities exist in the 2017 Kentucky General Assembly to build on that good work,” said Dr. Brooks.
Keep Kindergartners Out of Court: More Effective Responses to the Behavior of Young Children is available now here.