Being the mother, father or loved one of a child who enters the juvenile justice system can be an overwhelming and frightening experience. Often, the first reaction many parents have is fear as they suddenly become aware that their child has entered a system where they no longer have total control of what happens to them.
Navigating the juvenile justice system can also be confusing and stressful and many parents feel helpless and filled with uncertainty at first. From the moment you get that knock on your door and throughout the process you will have many questions and need reliable information.
When you find out your child has been arrested you want to know:
- Where your child is? Are they safe?
- Can you bring them home?
- What did they do?
- Have they been hurt or have they hurt someone else?
- Do they need a lawyer?
And most importantly:
- What should I do right now and what will happen next?
Having access to information that can help you to better understand the court process, your rights as a legal guardian, and the rights of your child can be very helpful to reduce the uncertainty and your stress level.
This section of the website seeks to provide that information. An overview of the Juvenile Justice System can be found under the Child and Family Services Section of this website. Here, we will attempt to outline the basics of the court process, answer some frequently asked questions, as well as, share some tips on how you can successfully navigate the system and effectively advocate for your child along the way.
Since each situation and experience is unique and each county in Michigan operates their court system independently we will stick to the basics. If you need additional information or support after reading this section please feel free to call the ACMH office and we will work to connect you to additional information, support and assistance.
Michigan’s Juvenile Justice Process:
The following provides an overview and description of the steps that a youth and their family may experience when entering the juvenile justice system beginning with when an arrest occurs.
Who Can be Arrested?
A police officer, sheriff, deputy sheriff, state police officer, county agent, or probation officer may, without a court order, take any juvenile into custody if:
- The juvenile is found violating any law, status offense or ordinance, or
- There is reasonable cause to believe the juvenile is violating or has violated a personal protection order
What Will Happen if My Child is Arrested?
Immediately after your child is taken into custody a police officer will most likely take your child to the Family Division of the Circuit Court of the county where the offense was allegedly committed and file a delinquency petition.
The police officer may take them to the police station first if needed to complete booking procedures, or to collect data, including fingerprints.
Whenever a young person is taken into custody, the officer must immediately attempt to notify their parents or guardian.
Then, depending on the seriousness of the crime your child is accused of and if your child has been involved in the court system before one of to things will happen:
- Either they will be released to your custody until they have to appear in court, or,
- They will they will be placed in a facility where they will be kept or locked up until their court proceeding.
If your child is detained they will most likely be transferred to a juvenile detention facility.
Within 24 hours (unless it is a weekend or a holiday) after your child is arrested a preliminary hearing should be held.
What Happens at the Initial Court Hearing?
When a young person is accused of committing a crime or a status offense (something that would not be illegal if done by adults such as school truancy, running away from home, curfew violations and incorrigibility) they must appear in juvenile court for an initial or preliminary hearing.
During that hearing the judge will review the information presented to him and then he or she will do one or more of the following things:
- Dismiss the case or deny authorization of the petition
- Refer the youth (with the youth’s permission) to counseling under the “Juvenile Diversion Act,”
- Place the matter or case on a “consent calendar,” which is an informal process of court supervision
- Place the case on the “formal calendar” and allow charges to move forward against your child
If Your Child’s Case is Dismissed:
The youth is free to go and there is no other formal court process to follow.
If Your Child’s Case is Placed on the Consent Calendar:
This means that your child’s case will be taken off the “formal calendar” and instead be handled through an informal process of court supervision. If the court and you agree to place your child’s case on the consent calendar, certain rights of your child will be waived including the formal notice of charges, right to an attorney at public expense, the right to a jury trial, and presumption of innocence and right to present witnesses among others.
After your child is placed on the consent calendar, the court will create a case plan. The case plan will outline the steps the court would like your child to take and the services and supports they must participate in. After your child successfully completes the plan, or does everything the plan outlines for them to do, the court will close the case and may destroy all records of the proceedings.
If Your Child’s Case is ‘Diverted’:
This means that a court referee ‘diverts’ or moves the case from the formal court system to a less formal, more community-based setting.
Community-based treatment has been proven to be the most effective form of intervention for treating youth with mental health disorders and reducing recidivism meaning reducing the likelihood the youth will commit another crime.
Several factors are taken into account when considering whether a case should be considered for diversion, including the nature of the offense, the youth’s age, any background problems leading to the offense, the youth’s character and conduct, and behavior in family and school settings.
Options for diversion can range from warnings from the court, to requiring the youth to write apology letters, participate in community service, pay restitution to the victim of the crime, behavioral counseling, and/or participating in youth court.
What Happens if my Child is Charged and Their Case is Placed on the Formal Calendar?
If your child is placed on the formal calendar that means that they are being formally charged with the crime and they will have to go through the formal court process.
Once your child is charged with an offense they have an opportunity to admit or deny the charges. A youth denying the charges against them is presumed innocent and may request a trial before a judge or jury.
What Rights does my Child Have if there is a Trial?
At trial, youth have the right to an attorney, the right to remain silent, the right to confront witnesses testifying against them, the right to call witnesses, and the right to testify.
What Happens if the Court Finds my Child Guilty?
If a youth is found guilty at trial, or admits to a crime, the court will then prepare to enter a “disposition,” which is like the sentencing stage in the adult court system.
The judge can require a youth to do a variety of things as a part of the disposition, including requiring that the young person:
- Be on probation in home with their parents, relatives or guardians with or without electronic or other monitoring, rules and guidelines.
- Participate in counseling, drug or alcohol treatment, anger management or educational classes.
- Do community service.
- Provide restitution, or pay back victims of their crime.
- Go live at a juvenile facility, in or out of the state.
- Be placed in foster care subject to the court’s jurisdiction.
- Be sent to a private or public institution or agency that is to provide treatment and rehabilitation of juvenile offenders.
- Be waived into the adult court system for adult proceedings, with the option of a blended sentence.
- Pay a crime victim rights assessment fee, and reimbursement of court- appointed attorney expenses and other court service expenses.
The judge can also:
- Order the parents or guardians to participate in treatment or services
What Happens During the Dispositional Phase?
After a young person has been found guilty of a crime, and before a disposition is decided upon, the court will work to gather information or ‘establish a record’, by taking testimony, and allowing the defense and the prosecuting attorney to argue for the reasons they feel a certain disposition is appropriate for the youth and the crime committed.
The young person is often released on bond after a plea or finding of guilt. They usually are released with a set of guidelines they must follow while waiting for their disposition. The guidelines may include things such as having a curfew and mandatory school attendance. It is very important that your child adheres to the guidelines given by the court, as the judge will consider their behavior while out on bond when making their decision.
During the dispositional time, a probation officer will be assigned who will conduct an in-depth interview, or pre- dispositional investigation, with the young person and at least one parent or guardian. This is a very important meeting, because it gathers a lot of information that will be used to decide what is best for the youth. This is also a critical time for you as a parent to share information and to try to address your child’s mental health issues.
After these initial interviews are held, recommendations are made which will be considered at the dispositional hearing. During the dispositional hearing the “sentence” or conditions are made shared with the youth and their family.
It is important to understand that the judge makes all decisions regarding the placement for youth involved in the juvenile justice system. This means that they decide what will happen to your child and your child.
Tips to Help you Advocate for Child Throughout the Court Process:
One of the best ways to advocate for your child is to be actively involved in each step of the process. You can best do this by letting the people involved in your child’s case know that you want to be an active partner and do everything you can to help your child get the help they need and successfully get through the court process. Being actively involved is not always easy and you will have to be persistent in order to have input and get the information you need. Some strategies to do this are outlined below:
- Document all meetings, court dates, and keep copies of all court documents and correspondence.
- Keep records of your conversations with attorneys, court personnel, probation officers, case workers and other members of the team
- Request and keep copies of all assessments, evaluations or plans.
Speak up and Share Information:
- Remember that you are often the one with the most information and background about your child. Be sure to share information necessary to help others better understand your child and their mental health challenges.
- Ensure your child’s lawyer and others have access to records, evaluations and your child’s therapists if they have one.
- If your child has a mental health, learning or other disability be sure to share that information right away and throughout the process. Your child’s disability may interfere with their understanding of the charges against them; understanding of questions from the police or an attorney; and the ability to participate in his or her own defense. Information about a child’s disability can help the court choose an appropriate plan and placement for a child.
- Be respectful and professional whenever you interact with the court, attorneys or others.
- Remember that you really do know your child better than any professional and your perspective is very important.
- Remember there is no such thing as a stupid question- except maybe the one you don’t askJ
- Make sure you understand the legal process and the chain of command and direct your questions or concerns to the appropriate people.
- Keep in mind that a key part of successful communication is listening!
- Come prepared with all necessary documentation for court appearances or meetings. Organize your thoughts by writing down important points or thoughts.
- Learn what the court rules are prior to the first court date. Court rules vary. Specific courts do not allow cell phones inside the courthouse. Often children are not allowed in the courtroom.
And most importantly, Be Present!
- You should be present at every court proceeding. Often parents or legal guardians are sent a notice and if they are not present; they may be held in contempt of court.
- Be present at the all arraignments, hearings or dispositional interviews and be prepared to let the court know how you will supervise your child and cooperate with the court to meet release requirements set by the court.
- Keep all appointments and court dates be on time! If you have an emergency and can’t make it, be sure you know who to notify.
Key Tips for Parents/Guardians at Specific Points in the Process:
When Your Child has been Arrested:
- If the child has a disability that causes certain behaviors when he or she is stressed or frightened, call the police station immediately and explain these challenges.
- Go to the police station as soon as your child is taken into custody.
- Request to be present for any interrogation or questioning of your child.
- As soon as possible, inform your child of their rights and tell them they have a right to remain silent until speaking with an attorney.
- Consider if requesting videotaping of the interrogation would be helpful.
- Tell authorities immediately if your child has a disability that may affect how he or she understands or answers questions from the police.
- Share information about your child’s mental health diagnosis, medications, and how your child’s disability might affect his or her behavior.
- Make it clear to police and juvenile court personnel that you intend to be actively involved in the process and that you will work with them to insure an appropriate plan and positive outcome for your child.
- Provide copies of all documentation of your child’s mental and/or medical health history and share that information promptly with their attorney and the detention center if your child is detained.
- Make certain everyone is aware if your child is taking medication.
- Contact your child’s physician or therapist so they can help advocate that your child continue to receive their necessary medications without delay.
Before Your Child Appears Before a Judge:
- Write out and prepare in advance what you would like to say if you are given the opportunity to speak. It keeps you focused and will help you convey your most important points in a clear manner.
- Prepare a statement for the court about the child’s strengths, needs and any disabilities or other challenges they may have. You may give a copy to the lawyer and the judge before the hearing.
- Inform the court of your plan to help prevent this problem from happening again.
- Make sure the information you share is brief and to the point.
- Ask teachers, counselors, employers, therapists, and anyone else who knows and cares about the child to send the court a letter describing their positive experiences with the child.
- If appropriate and if your child has admitted guilt ask your child to prepare a short statement that includes some reference to feeling remorse for what they have done and how they plan to act differently next time.
During Court Proceedings:
- Dress appropriately. Do not wear jeans, shorts, T-shirts or clothing that is revealing.
- Keep comments to the point and factual.
- Be sure to follow court rules and the process.
Before Your Child is Sent to an Out of Home Placement:
- If the child has a history of suicide attempts or severe depression, make sure the facility is aware of that information and that the child’s mental health issues are addressed.
- Again ensure everyone has access to information about your child’s mental health or other needs, strengths and any other relevant information.
- If your child uses medication, inquire about bringing it to the facility and obtain a written agreement about its administration and use.
- Contact the facility’s education director in advance. Send a copy of the child’s school records, their latest Individual Education Plan if they have one, psychological evaluation, and medication information. Tell the facility’s education director that you would like to continue to be involved in your child’s education. Additionally, let them know that you would like to learn about their child’s activities, any problems he or she may be having, what staff do to address these issues and if there is anything you can do to be helpful or supportive.
- If you know that someone who has been a bad influence or a problem in your child’s life is also in the facility, let the staff know so they can plan accordingly.
￼ While your Child is in Placement:
- One of the first things you should do is send a written or typed document to your child for them to sign allowing permission to discuss and share information with you as their parent.
- If your child is held in detention, make certain they are receiving quality counseling, or request to bring in a private therapist, if possible.
- Cooperate with any requests and ask to be a part of the planning for treatment.
- Always be respectful and proactive, not aggressive. Remember this is a two-way street and that both professionals and parents have responsibilities, which must be honored to ensure your child’s success!
After Your Child Is Released:
- Work closely with aftercare staff and community-based agencies to assure a positive transition of your child back into the community.
- Participate in the aftercare planning.
- Take advantage of skills or other training that will improve your ability to work with your child’s mental health and/or disability related needs.
Tips for Addressing Problems While in Placement of During Aftercare:
- Make it clear to your team that you want them to help you work out the problem and want them to help come up with solutions.
- Let the people on your child’s team (mental health workers, attorney, advocates, probation officer) know what your concerns are by stating them clearly and honestly. You should also follow up in writing to create a record and avoid any misunderstandings.
- Keep track of what is working in your child’s plan.
- Remember that we rarely get everything we want; you will probably have to make some compromises.