By Carlos Gamino, former Wisconsin criminal defense lawyer

As a parent, one of the last things you want is a phone call from Milwaukee police letting you know that they have your child in custody. Juvenile criminal charges are serious in Wisconsin, but there is a difference between criminal charges and juvenile delinquency petitions—and your attorney may be able to help protect your child from the harsh realities of the adult justice system.

What are Juvenile Delinquency Petitions?

Minors under the age of 17 are usually subject to delinquency petitions. Unlike ordinary criminal charges, delinquency petitions don’t necessarily have the goal of punishment; instead, the entire juvenile court system works toward rehabilitation.

The children’s court uses a variety of interventions and provides several services—many focused on the whole family—to help steer kids clear of future criminal activity.

Helping Your Kids Deal with Criminal Charges

Psychologists agree that when kids get in to trouble, they need parental support.

“Even under the best of circumstances, adolescence is a stormy time,” says Dr. Kathleen M. Heide. “Children going through it need the support of parents, who must give them room to grow and help them confront tough issues.”

If your child has been accused of committing a crime, the best thing you can do (and the first thing you should do) is find an attorney who handles juvenile cases in Milwaukee.

From there, sit down with your child. Let him or her know that you care. There’s a fine line between supporting your child, though, and actually conspiring to be part of criminal activity (recently, a pair of Mississippi parents were arrested and charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor for allowing a booze-soaked party in their home).

You don’t have to condone what your child has done, but the best tactic may be to sit back and let the juvenile justice system do its work. Your child may learn more from that than he or she could from your unconditional protection.

Pediatric psychopharmacologist Dr. Alan Ravitz says that you absolutely must supervise your children at all times. It can be as simple as giving your child a phone and ordering him or her to call you every hour, says Ravitz, which can help prevent future misbehavior.