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.
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