Upwards of 2 million children are involved in the juvenile justice system across the country, and a number of children are at risk for an encounter with law enforcement due to factors like poverty and homelessness. With the intent of supporting children who have had encounters with the juvenile justice system, Congress passed the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) in 1974, which provides federal resources to state juvenile justice systems aimed at education and rehabilitation. In a bipartisan effort to build on the intent of JJDPA, Republican and Democrat members of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce introduced the Supporting Youth Opportunity and Preventing Delinquency Act (SYOPD) (H.R. 5963) on September 8th, which would reauthorize and reform JJDPA. On September 14th, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce approved SYOPD by a unanimous voice vote and on September 22nd, the bill passed the House by a vote of 382-29. Senators Grassley (R-IA) and Whitehouse (D-RI) have also worked to introduce the bipartisan Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act in the Senate.

Youth incarceration decreases high school graduation rates and increases future incarceration rates. Sponsored by Rep. Curbelo (R-FL) and cosponsored by Representatives Carter (R-GA), Kline (R-MN), Scott (D-VA), Davis (D-CA), and Wilson (D-FL), the bipartisan bill aims to incentivize a focus on evidence-based prevention and intervention initiatives in order to reduce delinquency and conserve expenditures. Under Title III of the proposed SYOPD bill, funds could be directed to the coordination of a continuum of services, which includes early childhood development services, voluntary home visiting programs, and nurse-family partnership programs.

Within the proposed SYOPD language, state and local leaders are afforded flexibility in delivering services specific to the needs of affected children and communities. This includes prioritizing evidence-based strategies to address juvenile delinquency and supporting prevention services. Accessing a continuum of high-quality early learning opportunities starting at birth can significantly improve outcomes for children from low-income backgrounds, which includes avoiding incarceration. Research shows that every dollar invested in quality early childhood development for disadvantaged children produces a 7-10 percent return, per child, per year through better outcomes in education, health, sociability, economic productivity and reduced crime. Early childhood programs, such as home visiting, are a valuable resource for supporting families to be the best advocate for their child’s learning and development. Investing in children from birth through family support programs ultimately saves money for tax payers as a result of the increased family self-sufficiency.

Federal funding for home visiting programs comes from the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program, a federal/state partnership with long-standing bipartisan support in Congress and in states. Through MIECHV, all 50 states have been able to deliver home visiting services to families living in at-risk communities, and according to the Office of Planning, Research & Evaluation’s 2016 Home Visiting Evidence of Effectiveness Review, this early intervention service favorably impacts child development, school readiness, and positive parenting practices. As its two-year extension through FY2017 comes to a close, we are committed to extending MIECHV, which is a critical piece to providing a continuum of care for children from birth to age five. The vast majority (80%) of voters across the political spectrum say that making sure our children get a strong start in life through quality early childhood education is a top priority issue. Federal and state investment in early learning can provide all children with access to a strong start, such that their success in school and life isn’t derailed by encounters with the juvenile justice system.