April 30, 2009
PARENTAL OPTIONS FOR OUT-OF-CONTROL 16-YEAR-OLDS
By: Susan Price, Principal Legislative Analyst
You asked what parents can do when their 16- or 17-year olds run away or are beyond their control.
Running away and disregarding parental authority are status offenses (i.e., misbehavior that would not be unlawful if committed by an adult), not crimes. Parents can (1) report a teen behaving in either way to their local police department, (2) file a court complaint asking a judge to designate the teen a “youth in crisis,” or (3) ask a judge to declare the teen emancipated, giving him or her all the powers of an adult and relieving the parents of any responsibility for his or her care or actions. If they seek to have the teen declared a youth in crisis, a judge can order, among other things, that the teen return home, not drive a car, attend school, or get mental health or substance abuse counseling. But courts have limited authority to enforce these orders. The law prohibits them from re-classifying violators as delinquent or holding them in detention.
Last session, the legislature voted to raise the age of Juvenile Court jurisdiction from age 15 to age 17, effective January 1, 2010. If this occurs, Juvenile Court judges will have more options for controlling these teens, including short-term placement in staff-secure facilities.
Parents who notify the police that their 16- or 17-year old has run away or is beyond their control can file a formal complaint with the police department. This must include a written, notarized statement giving the dates, times, and behavior that led them to file the complaint. It should also include the names, addresses, and other information about the teen's friends and acquaintances; where he or she was last seen; and a description of his or her car, if applicable.
Uniform police protocol requires officers to:
1. note the parents' demeanors,
2. check for family violence or assault reports,
3. report the case to the Department of Children and Families (DCF) and find out if the family has ever been involved with them,
4. give the parents copies of their statements, and
5. encourage the parents to file a youth in crisis petition in their local Probate or Juvenile court.
If the complaint involves a runaway, the police must immediately enter the information in COLLECT, the State Police's computer database; broadcast it to officers on patrol; and include it in roll call announcements. They must also try to locate the teen and notify the parents if they find him or her.
Before telling the parents where their teen is, a police officer must determine whether doing so would place the teen in danger of physical or emotional abuse. In making this determination, the officer must consider (1) the parents' demeanors, both when filing the complaint and upon learning that the police had located the teen; (2) the family's history of violence or abuse and neglect; and (3) the runaway's attitude and concerns, as expressed in the officer's private interview with him or her.
After informing the parents, the police officer must either:
1. take the teen home or to the home of an adult who is willing and able to provide appropriate temporary shelter;
2. refer him or her to the Probate Court in the district where he or she is located, if the court is willing to accept the referral;
3. hold him or her in protective custody for up to 12 hours while the officer tries to determine a suitable disposition, so long as the teen is not held in a cell designed or used for juvenile delinquents or adults;
4. take him or her to any public or private agency serving children, with or without his or her consent; or
5. refer him or her to a youth service bureau or agency serving children.
If none of these options is appropriate, the officer must refer the teen to the Juvenile Court in the district where the youngster is located (46b-150g).
YOUTH IN CRISIS LAW
The youth in crisis 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 are truant. It terms such teens "youth in crisis." It allows (1) various people to refer such teens to the court, (2) the court to order the teen to participate in various services, and (3) the court to impose sanctions to enforce those orders. It specifies that a teen who violates 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 their 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.
A teen can be referred to the court through a petition filed by a parent, foster parent, or representative of the teen; 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 DCF.
The petition must state the (1) teen's name, gender, birth date, and residence; (2) parents', guardians', or responsible adult's name and residence; (3) reason for the referral; and (4) 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 that the teen is a youth is in crisis, the law allows him or her to make and enforce orders, including:
1. prohibiting the teen from driving for a period the judge sets;
2. requiring him or her to work or perform community service;
3. requiring him or her to attend a court-approved local education program; and
4. requiring him or her to receive mental health or substance abuse services.
The law specifies that a teen that violates a judge's order cannot be considered a delinquent and cannot be sent to a state correction or detention facility (CGS §§ 46b-150f and 46b-150g).
Emancipation gives minors the same legal rights as adults, at the same time ending their parents' responsibility to support and control them. It occurs automatically when a teen turns age 18. And a common law (non-statutory) doctrine emancipates teens whose parents allow them to form a new relationship (such as marrying) that is inconsistent with ongoing parental control.
Connecticut also has an emancipation statute, which is independent of common law. Under the statute, a 16- or 17-year-old living in Connecticut (or his parents or guardian) can file a petition asking a judge to declare the teen emancipated. Courts must give the teen's parents or guardian legal notice and order them and the teen to attend a hearing. The statutory grounds for emancipation are (1) marriage (even if the teen has since divorced); (2) active U.S. military service; (3) a living arrangement whereby the teen willingly lives apart from his or her parents or guardian (with or without their consent) and is managing his or her own financial affairs, regardless of the lawful source of his income; or (4) a good cause showing that emancipation is in the best interests of the minor or his or her parents or guardian (CGS §46b-150b).
People can file emancipation petitions in the Juvenile or Probate court where the teen or either parent or guardian lives. Petitions must be signed under oath (verified) and include (1) the facts that bring the teen within the court's jurisdiction; (2) his or her name, date of birth, sex, and address; (3) the parents' or guardian's names and addresses; and (4) the petitioner's name and relationship to the teen.
Post-petition procedures differ slightly depending on whether the filing is in a Probate or Juvenile court. By law, Probate courts must hold a hearing within 30 days of receiving an emancipation petition. Judges must (1) ask DCF to investigate, but they may waive this when they find cause to do so and (2) appoint a lawyer to represent the teen. If the judge finds that reasonable cause warrants it, he or she may also appoint a physician or mental health professional to examine the teen. The judge may do this at any time in the proceeding on his or her own authority or if any party requests it. Probate judges may also order the examination of a parent or guardian when there is a dispute about the parent or guardian's mental competency or ability to care for the teen.
There is no statutory deadline for holding Juvenile Court emancipation hearings. And Juvenile Court judges may, but are not required to, (1) order any person, including probation officers and DCF employees, to conduct investigations; (2) appoint a lawyer for the teen who may also act as his or her guardian ad litem (i.e., represent both the teen's legal and best personal interests); (3) appoint a lawyer for the parents or guardian; and (4) make other appropriate orders (CGS § 46b-150a).
Effect of Emancipation
By law, an emancipated minor may:
1. get medical, dental, and psychiatric care without parental notice or permission;
2. sign and be bound by contracts and legal releases;
3. sue and be sued in his or her own name;
4. control his or her own earnings;
5. establish his or her own residence;
6. buy and sell property; and
7. enroll in school or college, enlist in the military, or get a driver's license without parental consent.
DCF cannot pursue abuse or neglect petitions involving emancipated minors. And emancipation relieves the minor's parents of (1) guardianship (including the duties to support, care for, and control the teen); (2) legal duties to enforce school attendance rules; and (3) liability for damages caused by the minor's acts (CGS § 46b-150d).