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Keeping Kids Out of Court in Kentucky

There is no age limit in Kentucky for when a child in trouble can be sent to court. Advocates want that changed, with a focus on options outside the court system. (Greg Stotelmyer)
February 6. 2017
There is no age limit in Kentucky for when a child in trouble can be sent to court. Advocates want that changed, with a focus on options outside the court system. (Greg Stotelmyer)

FRANKFORT, Ky. -- Youth advocates say court is no place for young kids who get in trouble. In fact, they say, it can do more harm than good. But, Kentucky does not have a minimum age requirement to determine when children can be sent to court.

According to a report from Kentucky Youth Advocates, between 2013 and 2015, children as young as four, five and six had formal complaints filed against them. The group is now calling for an improvement in options available outside the court system.

John Sivley, a licensed clinical social worker and member of the Juvenile Justice Oversight Council, said sending a young child into a punitive justice system can be traumatic.

"Involvement in the legal system actually has negative impacts on a child's behavior,” Sivley said, “and behavioral problems actually increase, particularly if there's any kind of detention or incarceration."

The KYA report found that while the number of young children who have charges filed against them has decreased, 43 percent of those who do still end up in the formal court process.

Kentucky lawmakers are considering setting a minimum age for criminal responsibility, and Sivley said that will help, because alternatives to court work best - for the child and for their family. As a member of the state's Juvenile Justice Oversight Council, he said he is constantly faced with the question, 'If not the court, then what?'

"The one thing we need to do is to create a system where we can refer and get youth involved with the behavioral health entities that are available across the state,” Sivley said.

Legislation has been filed in the Kentucky General Assembly to set 11 as the age for criminal responsibility. Nineteen states have set a minimum standard, Nebraska being the latest at 11 years of age.

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY