Handle With Care: Serving the Mental Health of Young Offenders Coalition for Juvenile Justice 2000 Annual Report

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Between 50 percent and 75 percent of incarcerated youth have "diagnosable" mental health disorders, and few juvenile detention facilities are properly equipped to deal with such disorders, says CCJ's 16th annual report to Congress, the president and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Based on information provided by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the National Mental Health Association, U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher and many others, the report outlines who the young victims of mental illness tend to be and why, the roles of the public and private sector in dealing with mental health, and examples of positive ways of addressing the issue.

Mental illness disproportionately strikes children of color and gay and lesbian children, the report says. Characteristics that contribute to the development of mental illness and are disproportionately experienced by children of color include poverty, prenatal drug/alcohol exposure, discrimination (also commonly experienced by gays and lesbians) and domestic and community violence.

Economics, the report says, play a significant role in the quality of care for mentally ill youth. Not only are poor children more likely to experience mental illness, but those who do must settle for a public system often suffering from personnel shortages and unable to treat those in need. Additionally, managed care providers often provide limited or no coverage for treatment of mental illnesses, charge high premiums or don't consider early warning signs as sufficient evidence of illness. The result: 36 percent of respondents to a national survey of parents of adjudicated children said their children were in the juvenile justice system because mental health services had been unable to help them.

Though highly critical of the public system's treatment of mentally ill juvenile delinquents and potential delinquents, the report's authors describe steps that the system has taken in the right direction. These include Multisystemic Therapy, Functional Family Therapy and Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care. 112 pages. $5. Coalition for Juvenile Justice, 1211 Connecticut Ave., NW, Ste. 414, Washington, DC 20036. (202) 467-0864. E-mail: info@juvjustice.org. www.juvjustice.org.

- Amy Bracken