Do Kids with Mental Health Problems Belong in the Juvenile Justice System? - Friday, January 29, 2010
On January 28, Texans Care for Children joined with partners at the Capitol to examine the connection mental health and juvenile justice in Texas. National experts, parents, and state juvenile agency staff all participated in the discussion at the Texas Summit on Mental Health and Juvenile Justice. Nationwide, 70 percent of kids in juvenile detention have diagnosed mental health disorders, and two-thirds of juvenile detention centers hold children who have committed no crime at all, but simply need mental health help they could not otherwise receive.
Providing mental health service options before kids ever commit a crime, offering quality care during detention, and planning for healthy transitions out of juvenile facilities are all part of the equation in ensuring the state handles the challenge well. An upcoming report will summarize findings from the summit and recommendations for state action, but key moments included:
Parents at the summit talked about their struggles to get their children the appropriate mental health services outside and within the juvenile justice system. One mother discussed turning her child into the system in order to access otherwise inacessible care; another talked about how her son with a mental health disability was kept in the Texas Youth Commission for five years, beginning at the age of 10, after he broke a window.
Kathleen Skowyra of the Models for Change mental Health.Juvenile Justice Action Network singled out Texas' Front-End Diversion Program, a pilot program of theTexas Juvenile Probation Commision, as especially worthy of replication in other states. The special needs diversion program and other probation programs received accolades as well.
Joyce Burrell, Deputy Commissioner of the New York State Office of Children and Family Services, discussed a juvenile justice approach that puts families at the center of any treatment plan and involves multiple systems and partners in making children well.
Dr. David Arredondo, a child and family psychiatrist who also is founding director of The Children's Program, described how many mentally ill kids in the juvenile justice system are victims themselves. For example, 40% of kids behind bars suffered physical abuse earlier in life. Dr. Arredondo noted, "Attention is a basic need. Kids who don't get any are indiscriminate seeking it. We need to ask ourselves what is really causing an issue: attention deficit disorder or a deficit of attention?"