LIABILITY (LAW); JUVENILES;
August 1, 2003
PARENTS' RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES FOR THEIR 16- AND 17- YEAR OLD CHILDREN
By: George Coppolo, Chief Attorney
You asked for information about parental rights and responsibilities regarding their 16 and 17 year old children. You also asked whether 16 and 17 year olds are eligible for public defender services and whether their parents’ income and assets are considered in determining their eligibility.
Connecticut law gives parents the legal right and responsibility to care for and control their minor children. It authorizes them to make major decisions affecting their children’s welfare, including, but not limited to, consent determinations regarding (1) marriage; (2) enlistment in the armed forces; and (3) major medical, psychiatric, and surgical treatment (CGS § 45a-604(5)). It makes Connecticut parents liable until their children turn age 18 for up to $ 5,000 in personal or property damages their children cause through willful or malicious acts, including damaging a car they steal (CGS § 52-572).
Connecticut law allows parents to use reasonable force to discipline their children (CGS § 53a-18). It specifically allows a parent to use physical force, which would otherwise constitute a crime, when and to the extent they reasonably believe it necessary to maintain discipline or to promote the child’s welfare.
Until the past few years, parents who had trouble controlling their 16 or 17 year old children received little help or support from the state or state law. The state court’s supervised program for helping parents with difficult children, the Family With Service Needs (FWSN) program did not serve children aged 16 and 17. (We have enclosed an OLR report describing the problems parents faced under the old law – OLR 94-R-0980). But a recently passed law helps parents to discipline and control their 16- and 17-year olds (PA 00-177).
This new law permits the Juvenile Court to assume jurisdiction over 16- and 17-year olds who are beyond their parents' control, run away from home, or fail to go to school. It terms such youths "youth in crisis. " It allows the court to order the youth to participate in various services, and the court to impose sanctions to enforce those orders. But it specifies that a youth who violates such an order is not delinquent and cannot be incarcerated in a state detention or correctional facility.
The law authorizes police officers to look for runaway 16- and 17-year olds. Police officers who find them may report their location to the parents, refer them to Juvenile Court, take them to an agency that serves children, or keep them in custody for up to 12 hours. A 2003 act, which becomes effective October 1, 2003, requires police to look for such runaway children and gives police additional options when dealing with 16- and 17-year olds. We have summarized this law and the 2003 act in greater detail below.
A 16 or 17 year old who is arrested for a crime is eligible to be represented by a public defender. According to Deborah Sullivan, Legal Counsel to the Office of the Chief Public Defender, the parent’s assets and income are not considered when determining eligibility for services. We have enclosed a copy of the eligibility guidelines.
YOUTH IN CRISIS LAW (PA 00-177; CGS §§ 46b-150 f AND g)
This law permits the Juvenile Court to assume jurisdiction over 16- and 17-year olds who are beyond their parents' control, run away from home, or fail to go to school. It terms such youths "youth in crisis. " It allows (1) various people to refer such youths to the court, (2) the court to order the youth to participate in various services, and (3) the court to impose sanctions to enforce those orders. It specifies that a youth who violates such an order is not delinquent and cannot be incarcerated in a state detention or correctional facility.
The law authorizes police officers to look for runaway 16- and 17-year olds. Police officers who find them may report their location to the parents, refer them to Juvenile Court, take them to an agency that serves children, or keep them in custody for up to 12 hours.
The law defines a youth in crisis as a 16- or 17-year old who, within the last two years, has (1) run away from home or other authorized residence without just cause, (2) been beyond his parents' control, or (3) four unexcused school absences in a month or 10 in a year. This definition is similar to that for children age 15 and younger who can come under court supervision through the Families With Service Needs (FWSN) program.
As with the FWSN program, a youth can be referred to the court through a petition by a parent, foster parent, or representative of the child; a selectman, town manager, police officer, or local welfare department; a probation officer; a school superintendent; a youth service bureau; or a child-caring agency licensed or approved by the Department of Children and Families.
The petition must state (1) the youth's name, gender, birth date, and residence; (2) the parents', guardians', or responsible adult's name and residence; (3) the reason for the referral; and (4) the action the petitioner wants the court to take.
The law implicitly requires the chief court administrator to establish policies for determining when a youth is eligible to come under the court's supervision. When, following these policies, a Juvenile Court judge determines a youth is in crisis, the law allows him to make and enforce orders, including:
1. prohibiting the youth from driving for a period the judge sets;
2. requiring him to work or perform community service;
3. requiring him to attend a court-approved local education program; and
4. requiring him to receive mental health services.
The law specifies that a youth who violates a judge's order cannot be considered a delinquent and cannot be sent to a state correction or detention facility.
Police Response to Runaways
The law authorizes police to look for a 16- or 17-year old whose parent or guardian reports he has run away. It allows the police, if they find the youth, to tell the parents where he is, but only if doing so would not jeopardize the youth physically or emotionally.
The law gives the police several options for handling a runaway youth they locate. They can (1) bring him home or to another person’s home; (2) refer him to Juvenile Court; (3) hold him in protective custody for up to 12 hours; or (4) bring or refer him, with or without his agreement, to an agency that serves children. The agency must provide temporary services to the youth unless or until his parents object. If the police keep a youth in custody, they cannot place him in a cell designed for adults and they can release him at any time.
2003 AMENDMENTS TO THE YOUTH IN CRISIS LAW (PA 03-257)
The legislature amended the “Youth in Crisis” law in the 2003 regular legislative session. The changes become effective October 1, 2003, except for the provisions concerning a study of changes that would be needed to expand Juvenile Court jurisdiction, which went into effect July 9, 2003.
1. modifies police responsibilities for responding to parents' reports about youth in crisis (YIC) and the Superior Court's tools for dealing with them;
2. requires the probate court administrator to: (a) establish a pilot program, funds permitting, in which the Middletown Probate Court will exercise jurisdiction over YICs who are not truants, and (b) report to the Judiciary and Children's committees on its effectiveness by January 1, 2005; and
3. requires Judicial and Executive Branch officials to review changes that would be needed, including funding, to raise the Juvenile Court's jurisdiction to age 17 or 18.
Locating and Reporting on YICs
By law, YICs are 16- and 17-year olds who (1) run away from home or some other residence without cause; (2) are beyond their parent's, guardian's, or other custodian's control; or (3) are habitual truants. The act narrows to runaways the type of YIC for whom the police have responsibilities. But it requires, rather than allows, the police to try to locate such youths when a parent or guardian reports them missing. And, if the police locate the youth, the act requires them to tell the parent or guardian where he is; prior law allowed them to do so. But the law continues to give police discretion not to report to parents if they determine doing so would place the youth in physical or emotional harm.
Police Options for Dealing with Runaways
The act requires police to respond in one of six ways when they locate a runaway, besides notifying parents. It eliminates provisions in prior law setting optional actions. Police can:
1. bring the youth home or to the home of a suitable and worthy adult (under prior law they could bring him to anyone's home);
2. refer the youth to the local probate court, if the judge is willing to accept the referral;
3. hold the youth for up to 12 hours or, during this period, release him to his parent or guardian if doing so would not place him in physical or emotional harm (the act eliminates a previous option that let the police release the youth on his own);
4. bring the youth to a public or private agency that serves this population;
5. refer him to a youth service bureau if one serves the community; or
6. if all other options fail, refer the youth to Juvenile Court (under prior law this option was not the last resort).
Uniform Protocols. The act requires the Police Officer Standards and Training Council to develop a uniform protocol that local and state police must use in intervening and providing assistance in YIC matters.
Juvenile Court Authority
The act allows the court to (1) refer the YIC to a youth service bureau if one serves the community and (2) review the option allowing either the youth or his parents or guardian to seek emancipation. And it allows the court to issue an order directing the motor vehicles commissioner to suspend the youth's driver's license for up to one year. Under prior law, the court could order the youth not to drive. By law, the court can also order the youth to work or perform community service, attend school or some other educational program, and obtain mental health services.
Study and Report on Raising Age Limits in Juvenile Court
The act creates a seven-person implementation team to review all matters necessary to implement an increase in the age limit for juvenile court jurisdiction by not more than two years (i. e. , from age 15 to age 16 or 17). The team consists of the chief court administrator, children and families and correction commissioners, chief state's attorney, chief public defender, child advocate, and the executive director of the Commission on Children, or their designees. It must submit a report to the Judiciary and Children's committees by January 15, 2004 containing its findings, any impediments, and recommendations for implementing the age increase.