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Brief History of Status Offenses in the US

Status offenses are behaviors and or conduct that is illegal for a child because they are considered underage. In this post, we will look at examples of status offenses as well as the history and development of the concept of status offenses.


Examples of status offenses in the US include alcohol and drug consumption, truancy, running away, curfew violations, sexual activity, profanity use, and disobedience to parents. These are all actions that are not illegal for adults to do. It is obvious that an adult can run away if they so choose, use profanity, and or disobey their parents.


However, even among adults, there can be consequences for these actions. For example, alcohol and drug consumption may be legal for adults but losing control can impact friends, family, and job performance which could lead to major problems. In addition, using profanity at the wrong time can lead to social consequences. Truancy from the job could also lead to termination. In other words, even though adults have free reign to perform status offenses there could be problems with these behaviors that may not involve the law.

History of Status Offenses

In the US, it was common at one time to place status offenders in orphanages or some other residential setting. Laws were even passed to deal with rebellious children. For example, Massachusetts passed a law in 1646 that could give a rebellious child the death penalty for defying their parents.

Status offenders normally are not petitioned to a juvenile court unless the parents are unable to deal with the child. This is in line with the state serving as a parental figure or parens patriae. Parents themselves can petition their own children to juvenile court if the behavior is out of control.

Children who are only status offenders are referred to by various names depending on the state. Some of the acronyms are “children in need of supervision” (CHINS), “minors in need of supervision” (MINS), or “youth in need of supervision” (YINS) among several others. The reason behind this labeling is so that status offenders are not associated with juvenile delinquents. In addition, status offenders are generally treated less harshly than juvenile delinquents due to the nature of the behaviors they are accused of committing.

There have been pushes to make changes to status offenses. Some do not believe that youths should have to obey laws that adults do not have to obey. Others have pushed for reform in the language that defines status offenses. At one time, there were demands that status offenders should not be placed in secure facilities given the nature of their crimes.

For the Teacher

As a teacher, it is important to know that most youths are guilty of status offenses. As such, those who are taken to juvenile court are probably in poor family situations in which the behavior attracts the police and or was in the wrong place at the wrong time. At most schools today you will find status offenses taking place. It would be difficult to find a school in which drug use, profanity, sexual activity, and more are not happening.

The general point is that for the teacher, status offenses may indicate an unstable home environment. If a student is in this situation the teacher needs to provide whatever support they can that is reasonable to help this student so that they do not drop out and or fall behind academically.


Mistakes are what people do. Children are no exception. However, due to their age and inexperience, young people have additional rules and laws they have to follow for their own safety. Status offenses are additional restraints placed on youth because of their youth. When children break the rules there is a chance that they can be brought before a juvenile court.

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