Construction of court petitions in cases of alternative placement of children at risk: meaning-making strategies that social workers use to shape court decisions.
The Family Court Service of South Beach Psychiatric Center was established to provide unified services to the Family Court of Staten Island. The services include juvenile and adult remands for hospitalization, outpatient treatment, and evaluative studies. A research and evaluation component was incorporated at the beginning of the program to develop data and to clarify the mental health services to be provided to the Family Court. Of early interest were the PINS cases, which accounted for 12 percent of the Family Court petitions in 1975. A PINS (Persons in Need of Supervision) petition is brought against a juvenile for a "status offense," which is behavior that would not constitute a crime if engaged in by an adult (e.g., truancy, running away from home, and being excessively disobedient). The PINS petition was given legal basis to separate these children and families from youngsters charged with a "delinquent offense" (Delinquency Charge or DC), which is an act that would be considered a crime if committed by an adult (e.g., larceny, robbery, and rape). It seemed worthwhile to explore the differences between the PINS and DC offenders in order to identify the characteristics which would help us to formulate a program for clinical intervention. The Family Court Service could further realize its goal of diverting cases from the Court before a formal petition is lodged.