Crossover For Children
Established in July of 2006, the Crossover for Children’s program provides representation to juveniles whose cases cross over into both the dependency and delinquency divisions of the Unified Family Court of the Sixth Judicial Circuit.
The program uses a One judge/one attorney approach. The same attorney represents the client, going before the same judge on both their delinquency and dependency cases. Unlike a guardian ad litem, who presents opinions regarding “the best interests of the child,” the crossover attorney advocates the “express interests” of the child client. In this way, the child’s actual wishes are made known.
This comprehensive representation benefits preteen and teenage foster children, who are most in need of stability, at an age when they are able to offer opinions regarding their situation. It ensures that the professionals working with the child are familiar with the child’s specific needs. This provides a comfort level to the child, they are better informed of the legal proceedings, are more involved in their dependency case and, through client education, are better able to understand the efforts and reasoning of the professionals working on their behalf.
Crossover representation also promotes fiscal responsibility and efficiency to the extent the crossover attorney can point out and/or eliminate duplication of services from the local community-based care (CBC) provider/Department of Children and Families and Department of Juvenile Justice.
How It Works
Clients are identified and appointed a crossover public defender at various stages of proceedings, with an emphasis on identification and assignment as early as possible. The public defender actively screens for crossover children at daily detention hearings of arrested children. The Department of Juvenile Justice staff at the Juvenile Assessment Center will note that a child’s guardian is the local CBC provider, or a foster parent or case worker may appear on behalf of the child. These children are reviewed and, if they are still the subject of an open dependency case, a crossover attorney will be assigned. If a child appears with a foster parent or case worker at an arraignment or pre-trial conference, the public defender would again review the case to make sure reassignment to a crossover attorney is appropriate.
The great majority of crossover clients have pre-existing dependency cases prior to becoming involved in delinquency proceedings, however, some clients have dependency cases opened or re-opened during the pendency of their delinquency matters. The court psychologists employed by the Unified Family Court are in constant communication with the juvenile division director regarding children in delinquency court whose circumstances mandated the filing of an abuse complaint. If the abuse complaint progresses to the point where dependency proceedings are initiated, the child is reassigned to a crossover attorney.
The crossover program cannot represent all foster children who are accused in delinquency court. Foster children who reside and have delinquency charges in Pinellas or Pasco counties, but who have dependency cases pending in other Florida circuits or other states, are not appointed a crossover attorney. The public defender's office also experiences the transfer for disposition/sentencing of delinquency cases from other counties involving foster children with dependency cases in the Sixth Judicial Circuit, who did not have the benefit of a crossover attorney in the originating jurisdiction of the transferred delinquency case. Upon transfer from the sending jurisdiction, crossover representation of the child begins. Once assigned, the crossover attorney remains on the client’s cases until both the delinquency and dependency cases are closed. In actual practice, the delinquency matters typically resolve first, while the dependency matters remain open much longer.
Program and Partners
The Sixth Judicial Circuit is unique in that it is one of the few jurisdictions in which the state attorney handles dependency cases on behalf of Department of Children and Families, as well as prosecuting juveniles accused of delinquent acts. The delinquency and dependency divisions of the state attorney, however, are distinct and the assistant state attorney on a child’s dependency case is not the same assistant state attorney on the child’s delinquency case.
The delinquency and dependency divisions of the state attorney’s office, as well as the Unified Family Court, including the Behavioral Services Court psychologists, the guardian ad litem, and the public defender’s office are all located in the Criminal Justice Center in Pinellas County, Florida. The Juvenile Assessment Center, Juvenile Detention Center and the Pinellas County Jail are on the same campus. The offices of the CBC (Community Based Care) provider are within two and a half miles. With such close proximity to one another, access to and communication with each other and clients should be a program strength. Difficulty arises in situations where the CBC has placed a crossover client in an out-of-county placement or the client has been committed to a Department of Juvenile Justice residential program, which can be at great distance from the Unified Family Court hearing the client’s remaining matters.
The goal of the program is to effect better outcomes for crossover children. On the delinquency side, this means a concerted effort to avoid felony adjudications and avoid Department of Juvenile Justice commitments as a convenient or cost-saving alternative to appropriate intervention by the dependency workers. On the dependency side, the goal is to effect better outcomes by analyzing the client’s current needs and current plan and to address shortcomings or gaps in what is being provided to the client to enhance the stability, normalcy and permanency of the child's situation.
By advocating for appropriate interventions from both the delinquency and dependency systems, the goal of Crossover for Children is to show reduced recidivism in our clients. The goal of both delinquency and dependency advocacy is to enhance the client’s ability to become a self-reliant adult in the future. The Public Defender Crossover for Children’s program attorneys advocate to avoid the criminalization of the behaviors associated with children, like M.D.B. in the case example, who have experienced abuse, abandonment or neglect.
In Fiscal Year 2007-2008, the Public Defender Crossover for Children’s program provided representation in over 400 delinquency and dependency cases to over 100 children.