Recent studies confirm that a high percentage of court-involved children suffer from one or more diagnosable psychiatric disorders.1 Moreover, children in the abuse and neglect system have much higher incidences of physical and behavioral health problems than do other children of a similar background.2 Left untreated, mentally ill youth not only pose a safety risk to themselves and others, but also are more likely to violate the terms of their probation, thereby sinking deeper into the juvenile justice system. Youth in the child welfare system with unmet health needs are less likely to achieve permanency and stability.
We employ a number of strategies—including litigation, legislation, publication of materials, and education—to ensure that child welfare and juvenile justice agencies promote the health and well-being of the children in their care.
For example, in the 1990s, we co-counseled Scott v. Snider, a lawsuit that challenged the legality of Pennsylvania’s Medical Assistance program for poor children. The resulting settlement required the state to provide comprehensive Early Periodic Screening, Diagnosis, and Treatment (EPSDT) services to youth in the dependency and delinquency systems. We also helped coordinate and implement a five-agency effort to shape Pennsylvania’s transition of its fee-for-service Medicaid program to a managed care model, safeguarding that the new system would adequately support children in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.
Additionally, we hold accountable correctional facilities that fail to appropriately treat mentally ill youth. Our lawsuit in A.M. v. Luzerne County Juvenile Detention Center led to a ruling that detention facilities can be held liable for failing to implement policies and practices that keep residents safe and address their mental and physical health needs. More recently, we partnered with pro bono counsel, Dechert LLP, to file Troy D. and O’Neill S. v. Mickens et al. in the U.S. District Court of New Jersey to challenge the New Jersey Juvenile Justice Commission’s excessive use of isolation and failure to provide treatment to seriously mentally ill youth. To help juvenile justice professionals navigate these complex systems and ensure youth receive the proper help, we provide educational training sessions and publish articles on the laws that affect children’s access to physical and behavioral health care. We also engage in regulatory and legislative reform to facilitate access to treatment for youth already in the system, and promote laws that protect youth against self-incrimination during mental health screening and assessment. Ultimately, many mentally ill juveniles enter these systems because their own communities fail to provide them with sufficient treatment. We strongly support efforts to both divert youth from unnecessary system involvement and assign them to appropriate services.
1Shufelt, J. & Cocozza, J. “Youth with Mental Health Disorders in the Juvenile Justice System: Results from a Multi-State Prevalence Study.” National Center for Mental Health and Juveniles Justice: Research and Program Brief (2006): 1-6. Web.; See Also Burns, B.J., et al. “Mental Health Need and Access to Services by Youths Involved with Child Welfare: A National Survey.” Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry43.3 (2004): 960-970.Web.; See also Courtney, M., S. Terao, & N. Bost. Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth: Conditions of Youth Preparing to Leave State Care. Chicago: Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago, 2004. Web.
2Hansen, R.L. et al. “Comparing the Health Status of Low-Income Children in and out of Foster Care.” Child Welfare 83.4(2004):367-380.Web.
Last updated December 2011
"It is estimated that anywhere between 20-50% of the Juvenile Justice population has ADHD, as compared to 3-5% of the general youth population"
Woolard, Jennifer "Models for Change Module 1 Adolescent Development." Models for Change: System Reform in Juvenile Justice. Models for Change System Reform in Juvenile Justice, Dec. 2009. Print.
In a study of 29 different detention centers, 65-70% of youth had at least one mental disorder.
Skowyra,Kathleen, and Joseph J. Cocozza. "Blueprint for Change: A Comprehensive Model for the Identification and Treatment of Youth with Mental Health Needs in Contact with the Juvenile Justice System." National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice. National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice, 2007. Web. May 2011.
1 in 8 incarcerated youth are labeled mentally retarded.
Mears, Daniel P., and Laudan Y. Aron. "Addressing the Needs of Youth with Disabilities in the Juvenile Justice System: the Current State of Knowledge." Urban Institute. Urban Institute Justice Policy Center, Nov. 2003. Web. May 2011.