Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Juveniles in the Justice System and Mental Health: Assessing Needs and Providing Treatment with Limited Resources

Following the Supreme Court's ruling on health care only weeks ago, issues of child welfare and, tangentially, adolescent mental health have assumed position at the forefront of discussion. An article recently featured in the Washington Post recognized the bill's significance as it relates to the improved accessibility of coverage for children and families seeking treatment for mental health issues. The health care coverage will now apply to children of all backgrounds and provides significantly greater coverage to these individuals. Of particular interest is the population of juvenile delinquents, a population known for having their mental health needs seriously underrepresented.

Current research indicates that as much as 70% of youth in the juvenile justice system meet criteria for at least one mental health disorder. These youth often experience disruptive disorders, substance use disorder, anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and mood disorders. In fact, these individuals' needs are further complicated by co-occurring mental health disorders. For example, one may seek treatment for substance use disorder while also combating depression. Findings also show that female offenders appear to have mental health disorders more often than male offenders.

After experiencing piercing state budget cuts, child welfare systems involving juvenile justice and mental health systems were left acutely debilitated. As statistics have shown, juvenile delinquents whose mental health disorders continue untreated are far more likely to reappear in the justice system later on in their lives. State cuts on child welfare and mental health systems severely paralyzed treatment efforts for the juvenile delinquent population in particular and, in fact, likely allowed for individuals' conditions and communities to worsen.

Looking forward, advocates for juvenile delinquents and their mental health are seeking recognition for this vulnerable population and appealing for more collaborative, community-based treatment and aftercare as such approaches have been found most effective. Experts stress that mental health screenings and assessments of juveniles prior to court proceedings and placement in correctional facilities will result in identifying the best fit solutions for each individual, both in terms of one's mental health and unique life situation. Diversion, for example, is a course of treatment that involves individual and family therapy intervention and is often a more helpful option than detention for juveniles in the justice system who do not pose a danger to public safety and for whom detention would create larger issues.

As child welfare systems are slowly being pulled from the large lump left under the rug by state budget departments, discussion of juvenile delinquent mental health has been reignited. John Gregg, a running candidate for governor in Indiana, recently castigated the state's previous governor for his decision to cut spending on related child welfare services. Gregg declared, "It is clear that Indiana's children need more support," and that he envisions a reinstatement of preventive mental health services for juvenile delinquents. Instead of delaying treatment until juvenile delinquents are already in trouble, he emphasized that treatment measures be taken as early as possible for these children and families seeking support.

With increased representation and funding for juveniles in the justice system, mental health disorders afflicting this population of youth should be better treated and workers in the juvenile justice system will be able to improve their directed efforts. Focusing on the youth themselves and their needs will encourage betterment in their mental health and overall lives, along with necessary advancements in the juvenile justice system.

Camil Sanchez-Palumbo, Intern

1 comment:

  1. Depression affects millions of Americans every year. Treatment for depression accounts for a huge amount of our health care budget and the expense of a large potion of medical insurance policies. Mental health services can help many of these people deal with depression, anxiety, and other mental problems.

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