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Youth Justice

My Child or Young Adult Has Been Arrested. What Happens Now?

The Milwaukee County DHHS CYFS can walk you through the process.


*In the following videos, CYFS is referred to as DYFS.

The Intake Process

Things You Need to Know About the Intake Process

  • Law enforcement will bring the youth to the detention center
  • They may at stay in detention or be released with an order to return
  • Youth are told not to talk about their case
  • Two people will be very important, your attorney and your human service worker
  • The HSW serves as the front door to the process and is there to assist the family
  • The first meeting the youth will have is the intake conference where they will gather facts
  • The first court appearance is a temporary physical custody hearing in front of a court commissioner

At the hearing:

  • The judge will talk about what conditions need to be met before the next hearing, the rights of the youth, rules, and where they are going to live
  • The attorney will tell the commissioner what you want
  • The HSW will make a recommendation to the Court Commissioner
  • The goal of the Court Commissioner is to make things better

The Court Process

After the Intake Process and Your Appearance in Court

  • At the end of intake meeting with court commission you will be assigned a court date
  • In the days and weeks leading up to the court date, youth must adhere to conditions outlined at the temporary physical custody hearing. They may include:
    • Don’t commit any new offenses
    • Don’t leave without permission
    • Don’t miss school
    • There may be GPS monitoring and a curfew
  • The goal of children’s court is rehabilitation and to strengthen the child, accountability and not punishment
  • There are four people that play the biggest roles:
    • The judge is in charge and has the final say
    • The District Attorney represents the State of Wisconsin
    • The attorney is the defendant’s voice, they are there to advocate for what the client wants
    • Human Service Worker plays and important role—others rely on information from the HSW
    • The most important person is the defendant/youth accused of a crime—even if he/she doesn’t say anything
  • Tips for Success in Court
    • Be respectful
    • Dress nice
    • Ask questions
  • Feel confident knowing you’ll be treated with respect
  • The most important thing is to follow the court ordered recommendations

The Final Disposition Process

Court Proceedings and the Disposition

  • The judge will consider all the information and order a judgement which is called a disposition, same as a sentence
  • The judge’s decision relies heavily on what the Human Service Worker says
  • The information provided to the attorney and human service worker must be honest
  • Finding the way forward is to have a good relationship with the HSW
  • The judge takes multiple factors into consideration:
    • What are the youth’s risk factors?
    • Do they have mental health or substance use disorder needs?
    • Is there supportive family or other relationships to support them?
  • The judge’s goal is to have a custom made plan in place that supports the youth and ensures they don’t come back

Our Goals

CYFS aims to facilitate positive youth identity development by identifying their strengths, assisting them in exploring a positive future, and supporting them in achieving their goals. Our goal is to enhance the following skills with our youth:

  • Critical thinking
  • Self-regulation
  • Problem-solving
  • Mindfulness
  • Goal setting
  • Interpersonal relationships
  • Enhancing caregiver confidence

By focusing on mental wellness, healing-focused care, alternatives to out-of-home placements, data-driven programming, and integrative approaches that involve all the tools available to DHHS, youth are developing tools and strategies to help them succeed and return to supportive homes and stronger communities.


Our Human Service Workers

Youth justice service workers provide support and advocacy to youth and families during their involvement with CYFS. Service workers assist the youth and family through this process by maintaining consistent contact, monitoring youth progress in programs and services, providing updates to the court, monitoring accountability with court orders, assessing needs with services and supports, and celebrating successes. Service workers are trained to use a developmental approach, Growth Focused Case Management, to youth justice with an aim of facilitating youth growth to positive adulthood. The needs of our young people are addressed through these intentional experiences:

  • Fostering exploration of a positive future
  • Identifying strengths
  • Working with young people to identify their goals
  • Helping young people pursue those goals

Our Community Network of Providers

CYFS helps youth and families involved in the justice system as soon as they enter. We can provide services while youth await the judge's decision and court outcome, while they are on supervision with the courts, as well as connect them to resources that they can maintain when they are no longer in our care.

Our community network of providers make it possible for us to offer the array of services identified below.


Programs and Services

  • Capias Abatement
  • Community Service Coordination
  • Education Restoration and Support Services (i.e., Competency Restoration, Driver's Ed., Tutoring)
  • Global Positioning Systems and Intensive Monitoring
  • Mentoring
  • Parent Advocacy


  • Restorative Justice
  • Sexualized Behavior Services
  • Skill Building Groups
  • Clinical Therapeutic Services: Assessments, Alcohol & Other Drug Abuse Services, Individual, Family and Group Therapy
  • Youth Employment


Out of Home

Placements in temporary shelter, group homes, foster care and residential treatment care as deemed appropriate.

System of Care Services

Eligible services available through our system of care, Children's Community Mental Health Services and Wraparound Milwaukee, Comprehensive Community Services, Birth to 3, Children's Long-Term Support and Children's Community Options Program.

Our Champions Make Change Program

The Champion's Make Change program exists to provide a dispositional placement alternative to Department of Corrections Division of Juvenile Justice Corrections placement for the circuit courts.  

This alternative placement has been intentionally re-designed to provide a comprehensive dialectical behavior therapy informed environment that is built on the foundation of five key components:

  • Imparting skill
  • Acknowledging harm of racial injustice and promoting healing
  • Increasing adolescent growth and brain development
  • Using restorative practices
  • Involving continuous family inclusion

Credible Messengers Program

CYFS is very proud of our Credible Messengers Program.  Credible Messengers is a mentoring program for youth in the Youth Justice System and youth in the community who may be at risk. This transformative process through which individuals from similar backgrounds, including men and women who themselves may have been justice-involved, engage youth in structured and intentional relationships and activities, provide a positive platform for youth engagement & community voice; and change agents for racial equity and policy on issues that plague the youth, families and community.

Credible Messenger Brochure 

Program Launch Press Release 

Contact DHHS Children, Youth & Family Services

Visit Us

Talk to Us

24-Hour Detention Line

(414) 257-7715

Administrative Contact

(414) 257-7721

Kelly Pethke

Kelly Pethke 

Administrator, Children, Youth & Family Services

Contact for Media Inquiries



1220 W. Vliet St.

Suite 301

Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53205

Our Vision

Together, creating healthy communities.

Our Mission

Empowering safe, healthy, meaningful lives.

Our Values

Partnership, Respect, Integrity, 

Diversity, Excellence

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