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JUVENILE COURT - NEW CASTLE COUNTY

A Juvenile Court for the city of Wilmington was established in 1911 to handle all cases “relating to children, including juvenile delinquents, truants, neglected, incorrigible, and dependent children and all other cases where the custody or legal punishment of children is in question.”1 This jurisdiction was extended in 1923 to include all of New Castle County.2 The Juvenile Court was restricted to hearing cases involving males seventeen years old or younger and females eighteen years old or younger. Previously minors had been tried in the same courts that adults were tried. Juvenile Court’s jurisdiction did not extend to capital felony cases for in these cases juveniles continued to be tried as adults and the court did not have probate jurisdiction.3

The court was presided over by a judge appointed by the governor for a four-year term. The Clerk of the Peace for New Castle County was the clerk of the Juvenile Court and was responsible for keeping the dockets, records, and proceedings. He was mandated to keep “The Juvenile Court Record” and “The Juvenile Court Docket.” He also issued subpoenas and submitted an annual report to the Court of General Sessions which contained the number, disposition, parentage, and other useful information on delinquent, dependent, or neglected children brought before the court.4

Other court officials included the Chief Probation Officer who was appointed by the Superior Court judges on recommendation of the Juvenile Court judge. The chief probation officer has the power to make arrests and enter the home of any delinquent. When minors were brought before the court, it was the duty of the officer to investigate the case, to be present in court to represent the interests of the minor, to furnish the court with information and assistance, and to take charge of the minor before and after the trial. He was assisted by paid and unpaid probation officers appointed by the Juvenile Court judge.5

Cases could be brought before the court by any reputable resident of New Castle County who had knowledge of delinquent, neglected, or dependent children. Residents had to file a petition stating the facts of the case with the facts verified by an affidavit. Summonses were then issued by the court to require the minor and their guardian to appear before the court. Summonses were served by the sheriff, county constable, or a probation officer. The public was not permitted to be present at case hearings. Until the first hearing, the chief probation officer could ‘parole’ the minor or place him in an institution for safe keeping.6 In 1923 an act to create a juvenile detention home was passed. Because of the rapid increase in welfare work with children, a detention home was needed to care for wards while examinations and 1227.2 investigations relating to their cases were carried out.7 Appeals of court decisions were made to the resident associate judge of New Castle County.8

Depending on the outcome of the case, minors could be returned to their home, but be subject to visits by the probation officer; they could be placed with a suitable family; or they could be committed to an institution. Black and white males were often sent to Ferris Reform School, while females were often sent to Delaware Industrial School for Girls.9 After 1920 black females were sent to the Industrial School for Colored Girls.10 The court could also commit minors to other institutions, associations, or religious institutions established for the care of children. Whenever the minor’s reformation was judged to be complete, the court could parole or discharge the minor from the institution.11

The judge was responsible for appointing a Board of Visitation which had the responsibility for visiting all institutions where children were (might be) placed by the court and reporting its findings to the Juvenile Court and the Superior Court. Minors placed with families were visited at least twice a year by probation officers or persons appointed by the Juvenile Court judge and reports of these visits were made to the judge.12

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JUVENILE COURT - NEW CASTLE COUNTY

When the jurisdiction of the court was extended to include all of New Castle county in 1923, the duties of the court remained the same but the jurisdiction was expanded to include cases from Kent and Sussex County Justices of the Peace and Court of General Sessions.13 Ten years later a separate Juvenile Court for Kent and Sussex Counties was established.14 (See RG 3842 and RG 4842)

In 1945 the New Castle Juvenile Court was abolished and replaced by the Family Court of New Castle County which was given expanded powers relating to juveniles and their families.15 (See RG 2841)

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JUVENILE COURT - NEW CASTLE COUNTY

1 26 D.L., ch. 262.

2 33 D.L., ch. 227.

3 26 D.L., ch. 262.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid. Rev. Code 1935, ch. 116.

6 Ibid. 33 D.L., ch. 227.

7 33 D.L., ch. 228.

8 29 D.L., ch. 253.

9 26 D.L., ch. 262.

10 32 D.L., ch. 155.

11 26 D.L., ch. 262.

12 Ibid.

13 33 D.L., ch. 227.

14 38 D.L., ch. 197.

15 45 D.L., ch. 241.

rlg/January 27, 1988; January 28, 1988; August 22, 1989