Youths in custody finds half have mental health problems

Discussion in 'General Parenting' started by Sheila, May 9, 2008.

  1. Sheila

    Sheila Moderator

    Something the majority of us already knew, but I'm very glad the problems are being recognized.


    May 8, 2008, 11:30PM
    Survey of youths in custody finds half have mental health problems
    Nearly 3,500 juveniles at the county detention center were tested


    Nearly half of the youths locked up in the Harris County Juvenile Detention Center suffer from mental health problems — far more than the estimated 20 percent with mental disorders in the general youth population — figures released Thursday show.
    These youngsters, mostly teenagers, have been diagnosed with maladies including bipolar and attention deficit disorders, according to data compiled by a group of organizations studying the issue. Nearly 20 percent have severe emotional problems, the data show, and a quarter had never been diagnosed previously.
    "For the first time ever we've collected amazing data that really give us the hard facts about what issues are there and what diagnosis we need to treat," said Betsy Schwartz, president of Mental Health America of Greater Houston. The nonprofit agency and the county juvenile probation department are coordinating Operation Redirect, a collaboration of local groups trying to prevent mentally ill kids from ending up behind bars.
    Researchers and juvenile justice workers have long noted a correlation between mental health issues and delinquency. In Harris County, however, juvenile offenders held in the detention center were not routinely psychologically evaluated until last year.
    "When I go out and speak or just have conversations with the general public, they just don't realize that there are that many kids," said Harvey Hetzel, head of the probation department. "It's high and people need to realize that."
    With the help of private foundation grants and public dollars, Operation Redirect spent the past year testing close to 3,500 juveniles in detention, or about 90 percent of those in lock-up awaiting a court hearing. That's up from 10 percent to 15 percent tested the previous year.
    Identified problems ranged from mood to psychotic disorders for kids arrested for crimes such as theft, drug possession and violence against a family member.
    Judge Mike Schneider, the newest member of the juvenile courts, said his cases frequently involve kids hampered by their mental issues.
    "One of the things we see is either kids who commit offenses or violate their probation when they make the decision on their own to stop taking the medication that they are supposed to take," he said.
    Of the youths with severe emotional disorders in juvenile detention, 22 percent had been physically abused and 12 percent were abused sexually, the new data show. More than half have experienced some form of traumatic loss.
    Schneider said the county has options for those with severe problems, but could use more. Operation Redirect members voted Thursday to fund a pilot program, used successfully in other cities including Dallas, which works with mentally ill kids and their families.
    About 20 percent of children and teens have mental disorders, according to a 2002 U.S. Surgeon General's report. But studies have long found much higher rates among those behind bars or in juvenile courts. The issue, ignored for many years, is beginning to get attention and funding. The National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice formed in 2001.
    Operation Redirect began five years ago. Besides the detention center screenings, the group, together with other community organizations, has helped fund two new positions to work with mentally ill kids in and out of the court system. If the pilot program works, members hope to expand it to more youths in lock-up.
    "There is a shortage of services," Schwartz said. "(But) we are now in a position to really transform the system."
  2. Nancy

    Nancy Well-Known Member Staff Member


    I am so glad more courts are recognizing this. In my city they started a mental health court for juveniles just for this reason. It is headed up by a judge who has experience and training in dealing with mental health issues in juveniles. They built a network with mental health professionals and programs in our area that she refers juveniles to instead of sending them to detention, if the juvenile qualifies. It just so happened that my difficult child's case was assigned to this judge and I was hoping to get difficult child's case to go this route but was told her mental issues were not severe enough and we already had a lot of mental health supports in place for her. But I do think that this was a major reason why she didn't get sent to detention.

    I hope many more courts go this route and more services open up for our kids.

  3. mstang67chic

    mstang67chic Going Green

    After reading only the title of the article (and even after reading the article itself), I can only think of one thing to say.

  4. dirobb

    dirobb I am a CD addict

    (cynic here) Nothing...I live in houston and to say the system needs to be overhauled is an understatement. I'd like the ones who we know have the potential to become involved with the justice system to have opportunities available before it escalates to that point. We been advised that no help is available until they commit and offense and the courts are involved or we have very deep pockets. I dont and the other does not seem like a great alternative. Too bad for my difficult child because I keep an eye on him and dont let him get into a sticky situation.

    On a more positive note...maybe some good will come of this even it only abit more compassion for those who need it.
  5. Sara PA

    Sara PA New Member

    And how many of us have been told by our childs' psychiatrist to call the police when our child gets out of control?
  6. Christy

    Christy New Member

    Unfortunately many adult prisoners also have mental health problems.

    I often think that if my difficult child continues the way he has been going, he will end up there. And that is despite husband and my best efforts to provide medication, counseling, and services. There are so many people out there who do not have access to mental health services or choose not to pursue them. It's sad.
  7. klmno

    klmno Active Member

    I'm on the same page as Sara- I have had tdocs and psychiatrist tell me to call the police, even before things got to the point we are at now. It isn't the answer. There is a big void in the mental health system. It seems our only options (for us-not necessarily everyone) is the typical outpatient, short visits with no support between those appts, acute psychiatric hospital (apprx 3-7 day stay), or call the police and turn it all over the county/state- who by the way, believes in the "one size fits all" treatment- they provide the same behavior management contract to all kids, no matter what.

    Then, the court's stand is that if what has been tried hasn't "solved the problem" then they have no choice but to take the kid into the system. That might be a temporary "bandaid" solution to keep everyone safe, but you would think that mental health profs. and legal authorities would be advocating for the actual provisions that are needed, rather than pointing the finger at each other and finding a way to blame the parents in the process.

    I can only hope that we might be getting to a point where legal authorities, psychiatrists/tdocs, and parents are all yelling and demanding that the void in treatment options for the average family is filled- no matter what it cost to get insurance companies on board or local agencies to provide more than outpatient services and the "one size fits all" treatment plan.

    I heard a few months ago that it cost more for an adult to be in prison for one year than it does to send a person to college for four years. Can the cost of sending a juvenile to detention rather than provide adequate and appropriate mental health treatment be measured?
  8. TerryJ2

    TerryJ2 Well-Known Member