What is a Juvenile?

A juvenile is any individual who is under the chronological age of eighteen years and has not been previously transferred to adult court.

What is a Juvenile Offender?

A Juvenile offender is any juvenile who has been found by the juvenile court to have committed a delinquent offense.

What is Juvenile Court?

Juvenile court is where a judge decides what happens to juveniles accused of breaking the law, or whose parents cannot care for them, or whose behavior makes them at risk or in need of services. Counties/Cities operate the juvenile courts in the state of Tennessee and they all follow the same laws. However, even though they follow these same laws, most county juvenile courts have their own process for handling cases.

Parents and Juvenile Court

The term parent as used here means the juvenile's parent, legal guardian, or custodian. Parents are an important part of juvenile court. Studies show that when a parent goes to a diversion meeting or comes to court, the juvenile has a better chance of staying out of trouble in the future.

My child is applying for a job. Does my child have to disclose any juvenile court record?

The important thing is to be honest. If the question asks about convictions only, juvenile records (which are adjudications, and not convictions) would not count. If the question calls for convictions and adjudications, then the answer would be different. If a juvenile record is expunged, it can be honestly treated as if it had never occurred.

What is the legal age for kids to stay home alone?

There is no legal age for children to stay at home alone. Parents are advised to use their best judgment, keeping the child's maturity level and safety issues in mind. Younger children have a greater need for supervision and care than older children. Obviously, young children under age 10 should not be left without supervision at any time. In most cases, older teenage children may be left alone for short periods of time.

My child refuses to come home on time. Can I lock my child out?

Enforcing house rules is tough for parents. A parent is allowed, even expected, to provide discipline in the home. However, a child may not be locked out of the house unless other arrangements have been made. This might be to allow the child to stay with a relative, or in another furnished part of the house.

What's a CASA/GAL?

CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocate. CASA's are trained community volunteers appointed by the juvenile court to advocate for abused and neglected children in court.

A GAL is an attorney appointed to represent the best interests of a child before the juvenile court.

What is probation?

A judge may place a delinquent juvenile on probation under the supervision of a court counselor. During the period of probation, a juvenile must follow those requirements established by the judge. The Youth Services Officer or Probation Officer works with the juvenile and his/her family to provide services to assist the juvenile in successfully completing the court-ordered requirements. The Youth Services Officer or Probation Officer reports to the judge on the juvenile's progress.

Is a juvenile hearing exactly like an adult trial?

No. Although the hearing is conducted in a courtroom by a judge, juveniles have some rights, such as confidentiality of records that adults do not. Likewise, adults have some rights, such as jury trial and bail that juveniles do not. Both groups have some rights in common, such as the right to an attorney.

Why doesn't a youth go to detention for committing an offense?

There are two main reasons why a juvenile would not go to detention for committing an offense.

One reason is that the offense they committed does not meet statewide detention admission guidelines. A statewide holdable list specifically outlines which offenses may admit a youth into detention. If the offense is not on the holdable list, the police officer can still bring the youth to the detention center. At the detention center the staff will contact the youth's parents or another responsible adult for the youth to return home. The youth then would get a notice to appear in juvenile court.

The other reason is police discretion. The officer has the discretion based on the seriousness of the offense and what type of behavior the youth is demonstrating at the time they are taken into custody. The officer may feel that the youth would be better served if they were sent back to their parents. The officer would still refer the offense to the juvenile court and the youth still has to go to court to face charges.

Also, children alleged to be unruly can be detained. However, they cannot be detained more than twenty-four (24) hours unless there has been a detention hearing and a judicial determination that there is probable cause to believe the child has violated a valid court order.

What happens at the detention hearing?

The Judge determines if a youth should continue their stay in locked detention or be allowed to go home until arraignment on the charges. Criteria the Court uses typically are:

Is the youth a danger to themself?

Is the youth a danger to the community?

Is the youth a risk not to appear in court when summoned?

What is the difference between secure and non-secure custody?

Secure custody is placement in a detention facility and is used mainly for delinquent and some unruly juveniles.

Non-secure custody is placement in a foster home or comparable environment and is used for some unruly and delinquent juveniles as well as abused, neglected or dependent juveniles.

If a youth is allowed to go home, what happens?

Most likely, a youth is released to their parents. The court, however, can determine if there is another responsible adult, family member, or program to which the youth can be released. The youth still must appear at the scheduled arraignment hearing.

When is a juvenile held in a detention facility?

A detention facility is appropriate only if the juvenile is alleged to be delinquent or undisciplined and meets the criteria for secure custody. Whether or not a juvenile will be held in a detention facility depends on the circumstances of the case and whether there are grounds to detain the juvenile in order to protect the community or secure the juvenile's presence in court.

Where are youth placed after commitment?

Placements may include community-based services such as therapeutic foster care, tracking, day treatment, etc. Placement may also be made to a youth development center campus.

The majority of youth committed to the agency are served in community-based placements.

What is Abuse?

Abuse is an intentional act against a child that causes bodily or emotional harm. It is an act of commission (see also neglect). Generally, abuse is categorized into three main areas:

Physical Abuse: The non-accidental injury to a child.

Sexual Abuse: Any act of a sexual nature upon or with a child. The act may be for the sexual gratification of the perpetrator or a third party. This would include the active participant and anyone who allowed or encouraged the act.

Emotional Abuse: Continual attitude or acts that interfere with the psychological or social development of a child. Each of us is guilty of having unkindly snubbed a child or having judged too harshly, but emotional abuse is marked by its repetitive, chronic nature. Also, children exposed to episodes of Domestic Violence are enduring this kind of abuse.

What is Neglect?

Neglect is the failure to act on behalf of a child. It is an act of omission (see also abuse). Neglect may be thought of as child-rearing practices that are essentially inadequate or dangerous. It may not produce visible signs, and usually occurs over a period of time. Neglect may be physical or emotional.

Physical Neglect: Failure to meet the basic needs for a child's physical development, such as supervision, cleanliness, housing, clothing, medical attention, nutrition, and support.

Emotional Neglect: Failure to provide the support or affection necessary to a child's psychological and social development. More specifically it is failure on the part of the parent to provide the praise, nurturance, love or security essential to the child's development of a sound and healthy personality.

The effects of extreme deprivation can be seen in the medical syndrome called non-organic failure to thrive. Failure to thrive is a condition in which children show a marked retardation or cessation of growth. On a normal growth chart, failure to thrive children fall below the 3rd percentile.

What happens if I call Children Services?

If you call Children Services state law protects your identity, and your name cannot be revealed to anyone, unless in the rarest of events a judge orders it to be. The person taking your call will ask you your name and you are encouraged to offer it, but it is not mandatory to give your name when making a report.

The person taking your call (screener) will ask a series of questions to help gain information on how best Children Services can help. (See Tennessee Department of Children's Services - Child Protective Services division )

What happens when Children Services gets a call?

See Tennessee Department of Children's Services - Child Protective Services division

Will Children Services investigate me if I spank my children?

There is no law in the state of Tennessee forbidding a parent to spank their child. The word of caution to any parent who spanks in such a way that they leave visible marks is that if someone reports them, they can be investigated for child abuse by Children Services anywhere in Tennessee and in most other places in the U.S.

Through parenting classes and other child abuse prevention programs Children Services suggests more positive forms of discipline. However, if a parent feels corporal punishment is more effective, Children Services recommends that the parent never use an object (belt, board, switch) instead, the agency suggests the parent use an open hand on the clothed buttocks of the child.

Should I call even if I cannot prove a child has been abused?

Yes. In fact, a person should never attempt to prove a case of abuse before they call. It is the job of Children Services to investigate all alleged cases of abuse or neglect and determine if a family needs services offered to them. Someone should call if they suspect abuse or if they believe Children Services may be able to help them in any way. For telephone numbers to contact, please see: Tennessee Department of Children's Services - Child Protective contacts

What hearings will my child attend in juvenile court?

You and your child will be required to attend all hearings, unless your appearance is specifically waived by your child's attorney. The hearings include:

Detention Hearing : If your child is detained for more than 48 hours, there will be a detention hearing in no more than 72 hours, counting only court business days. The purpose of the detention hearing is for the Judge to decide if your child should go home before the next hearing, to appoint an attorney if you cannot afford one, and to read the charges against your child. If your child was arrested, but never detained, you will receive notice of an arraignment hearing. The purpose of the arraignment hearing is to appoint an attorney for your child if you cannot afford one and to read the petition containing the charges against your child.

Adjudication or Disposition Hearing: An Adjudication or disposition hearing is equivalent to a sentencing hearing in adult court. If the Judge rules that your child committed the offense, then at the disposition hearing the Judge will decide what orders should be made about your child.

In addition to the above hearings, you and your child may be required to attend any of the following hearings:

Review Hearings: In some cases, the law or the Court may set hearings to review your child's progress and performance under probation supervision. This includes Permenancy Planning Reviews and Foster Care Reviews.