The Mental Health Minute

Articles and news about mental health issues

Mental health court keeps children out of jail

Here’s a really great article that tells just exactly why it is important for us to help the emotionally damaged children in our country.  It has always been easy to just “throw away” children in this country.  We need to look to alternative ways to deal with this problem and Mental Health Court is a viable solution.

I was shocked to read the numbers quoted here.  These figures are for one county in the state of Louisiana.  Can you imagine what is going on nationally?

Please read this article and let me know what you think.  To me, this article simply shows that we are now trying to criminalize mental illness in our children.  This is too sad.


By Loresha Wilson

Wearing shorts and a T-shirt, the teenager sat on the sofa in his home in Shreveport’s Caddo Heights neighborhood and mumbled under his breath out of anger at his mother. A moment later he yelled at her.

The 13-year-old boy, eyes glassy from lack of sleep and daily regimen of mood stabilizers, is on probation for assaulting a staff member at a local medical facility and hurting a kid. That was the latest of the boy’s violent behavior. At age 5, he set the schoolyard on fire. He’s vandalized a house and cut a girl’s hair.

“While in kindergarten, my baby was the only elementary student in an alternative school for bad children,” said Robin Blair, the child’s mother. “This has been an ongoing struggle because he’s always in and out of trouble, and we’re always in and out of court. It’s so hard on me.”

Although he received diagnoses for psychiatric illnesses, including bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, in 2001, the teen is just now getting the help he needs. He is one of 110 children who have received services through the Caddo juvenile mental health court.

The Individualized Disposition Docket Court was established four years ago to deal with juveniles who have been adjudicated for crimes and diagnosed with serious mental illnesses such as major depression, mental retardation and autism.

The program includes probation officers and mental health workers and provides treatment-oriented dispositions to address the needs of the children.

“It’s not that we are going into the community and snatching up kids with mental illnesses,” said Judge Paul Young, who oversees the program. “These are children who have committed offenses or are ungovernable and have been adjudicated by the court.

“So the question is, since there has been a disposition are we going to send them off to some place, put them on probation until they re-offend or are we going to put them in an intensive program like mental health court? Now that’s the option that works.”

Young, a Caddo Juvenile Court judge of 10 years, played a lead role in starting the program. Before becoming a judge, he was a mental health advocate for a state agency, working with individuals in a psychiatric facility. During that tenure, he saw the need for a program that requires the child, the parent and the medical provider to cooperate.

At the time, children were committing crimes and being sent to juvenile prisons and group homes. Many got lost in the juvenile justice system for years, and eventually would get out and go into the adult system, he said.

“The court is in a position to require cooperation,” the judge said. “It improves cooperation by the parents with the mental health provider. It improves compliance by the child, and it helps assure that the treatment provider cooperates with the parent.”

The process over the past four years has reduced the out-of-home placement of children from more than 50 percent to less than 15 percent, Young said. Eighty-eight of the children have exited the program, and, of those, 74 completed the program successfully.

“It’s easily $50,000 per child, per year to go into a facility, now look how much money that saves the state for housing these children,” Young said. “It also saves the child the trauma of being removed from the home.”

The court, the first of its kind in Louisiana, develops a treatment plan that may include individual and family therapy along with medication evaluation and education support. Each child appears before the judge at least once a month for progress updates. And while participation in the program is considered voluntary, it is a condition of probation.

Juvenile officials have three special trained probation officers assigned to the program. The supervision includes weekly, face-to-face contacts with the minors and monthly contacts with the family, mental health treatment providers and school personnel.

The probation officers have a maximum of 10 cases, and others are placed on a waiting lists, according to officials.

The juvenile delinquents are referred to one of the three probation officers from the regular probation office. Usually the child already has been on supervision, but must complete at least six months of probation to successfully complete the program.

However, it could last longer.

“It’s more important for us to work effectively with the ones we have, than to give us more,” said Betty Bletz, court probation officer.

Children in the program are ages 9 to 17 and the majority of them are in special education classes at their schools.

“If you have a caseload of 50, you don’t have time to work on it all,” Bletz said. “We have to devote a lot of time to these children. These are people who really need us and the one-on-one attention. It’s difficult to keep them in home and in school.”

Bletz describes herself as an advocate for these children. She says her goal is to figure out the best way to assist them individually.

Much of her time is spent trying to educate people and families on the disabilities. It’s two-fold, the mental health issues and the fact that they are on probation, Bletz said.

“These kids are not bad, just kids who have emotional problems,” Bletz said. “They need someone to figure out the pieces of the puzzle and put it together. Many times the families don’t always know what their options are and where to get help. A lot of time no one wants to be bothered with them, and no one wants to take care of them. That’s what I’m here for.”

Blair contends her son would be in jail if it weren’t for Bletz and the court program. The probation officer before Bletz wanted him incarcerated, Blair said. But Bletz wanted to try the teen with the IDD program, and she has managed to keep him home, although he is home bound because he recently was kicked out of school for threatening a teacher. School officials, gave him home bound suspension for nine months, beginning Jan. 4.

The teen has been in IDD court almost two years.

“It’s been to the point that he’s had so many offenses till they could have just given up on him,” Blair said. Her son is in seventh grade and has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, bipolar disorder, moderate retardation and schizophrenia. Blair said doctors didn’t diagnose him until his actions got serious, and it was a year or so after the diagnosis before he received treatment.

“Now I feel there is hope because these people really are trying to help him,” Blair said. “He has problems and he has been in trouble, but he is my child and I love him.”

About two-thirds of the nation’s juvenile inmates — who numbered 92,854 in 2006, down from 107,000 in 1999 — have at least one mental illness, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. And cash-strapped states like Louisiana are increasingly relying on the juvenile corrections system to handle a generation of young offenders with psychiatric disorders.

“We are seeing more and more mentally ill kids who couldn’t find community programs that were intensive enough to treat them,” said Dr. Joseph Penn, director of mental health services for the University of Texas Medical Branch Correctional Managed Care. “Jails and juvenile justice facilities are the new asylums.”

Officials say sometimes mentally health children commit crimes because of their illnesses. They could go into a hospital-type environment or group home, but group homes aren’t equipped to handle kids with mental illnesses and the hospitals have scarce bed space, Young said.

Juvenile prisons have been the caretaker of last resort for troubled children since the 1980s, but mental health experts say the system is in crisis, facing a soaring number of inmates reliant on multiple psychotropic drugs and a shortage of help.

The mental health court has an 85 percent success rate.

“Working with kids, you have to meet them where they are,” Bletz said. “You’ve got to let them know you care and want to help. I’m going to fight to the end for mine, and I’m going to give them all I have. If they don’t make it, at the end of the day I’ll know that I tried. They are not bad people, just sick.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Additional Facts

By the numbers
$40,000: state appropriation for two cars, 15 electronic monitors, supplemental treatment money and training funds for probation officers.
$177,000: Office of Juvenile Justice State contract for salaries of three special trained probation officers.
$182,000: Office of Mental Health, Region VII, for operating the off-site Mental Health Assessment Center.
$120,000: MacArthur Foundation grant for developing diagnostic software and training for counselors and probation officers and limited funds for treatment.

Source: Caddo Juvenile Court

Here’s the link to the original article

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February 7, 2010 - Posted by | Mental Health | , , , , , , , ,

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