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Out-of-Control Teens: PINS Petitions & the Juvenile Justice System

​No crisis has a simple solution. When teenagers engage in extreme behaviors, parents should seek help from their pediatrician and local mental health professionals. 

These behaviors could include but are not limited to:

  • Drug dealing
  • Violence towards family members or others
  • Repeatedly running away
  • Stealing money and possessions

Sometimes, though, a teen's misconduct is so extreme or has been an ongoing problem for so long that his or her parents can no longer manage and feel they have no recourse but to order him or her out of the home.

No parent takes a step like that without a good deal of agonizing and soul searching. Most do so out of the sincere belief that it is in the best interest of the family, particularly siblings, and ultimately may serve as an incentive for their child to receive the professional help he or she needs—be it psychiatric care, a drug-rehabilitation program or some other form of treatment—and turn around his or her life.

What Is a PINS Petition?

A minor cannot simply be "thrown out of the house." His or her parents would have to go to their state's family court to file what is called a PINS (Persons in Need of Supervision) petition. In some states, it may be known as a CHINS (Children in Need of Supervision) petition.

The process may vary somewhat from one state to another. Typically, before filing, the parents and child must meet with a representative of a government social-service agency, who attempts to resolve the family crisis and keep the case out of court. This step, called diversion, can last ninety days. If reconciliation proves unsuccessful, the parents may then file the petition asking the court to order supervision or treatment for the child. (Legal guardians, school districts or social-service agencies charged with looking after a child may also file a PINS petition.)

The court will appoint an attorney for the young person and for the parents as well, if they cannot afford one. While the case is under consideration, the teen will continue to live with his or her parents, unless the court decides that is an unwise arrangement. In that event, the teen may be released to the temporary care of a relative, foster care, or possibly a group home. A hearing is then held. The family may place the teen in either a treatment facility or in foster care.

What Is Emancipation?

Teenagers are not without legal rights. A teen who wishes to live on his or her own legally, without running away from home, can appeal to the family court for a declaration of emancipation. Emancipation grants many rights of adulthood to teens who are approved by the court.

The criteria for emancipation varies according to jurisdiction. Most states do not allow those under eighteen to initiate such a contract, but in some, children as young as age fourteen may seek legal independence. Having graduated from high school may qualify a minor for emancipation, depending upon where he or she lives. Other criteria frequently includes marriage, parenthood or enlistment in the armed forces. Emancipation is also sometimes granted if the parents give their permission. Parents can remain involved with emancipated teens pending court approval.

Teenagers and the Juvenile Justice System

In order to be prosecuted for a crime, a person has to be deemed an independent adult. If a person commits a crime while still a dependent minor, then it is considered not a criminal act but a delinquent act. Accordingly, the case is heard in family court or juvenile court rather than in criminal court. Exceptions may be made, however, for minors who have perpetrated particularly serious or violent crimes, called designated felonies. They may be treated as juvenile offenders in a criminal court, although the criminal court may return the case to family court.

The process is similar to that of filing for a PINS petition. The teen is entitled to legal representation, and if he or she cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed by the court. An initial hearing is held to determine whether or not the teenager should be released to his or her parents' custody and allowed to go home. With minor or first-time offenses, that's usually what happens. But if the teen is felt to be a danger to the community or unlikely to return to court, he or she can be detained in a locked or unlocked facility until his or her day in court.

A minor found guilty of a delinquent act may be sent to a detention center, a shelter, even a boot camp. But the growing trend is to place teenagers in the least restrictive environment possible, such as a non-secured group home. Ideally, the teen can eventually come back home and return to school. The goal of the court is not to punish, it's to rehabilitate and create a productive adult capable of functioning in society. A delinquent act does not become part of a minor's criminal record; a designated felony, however, does.

Additional Information from


Last Updated
Mental Health Leadership Work Group (Copyright © 2016 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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