Findings from Interviews with Florida and Massachusetts Youth Mental Health and Juvenile Justice Stakeholders
August 18, 2021
August 18, 2021
The prevalence of youth with mental health problems in the justice system is overwhelming, especially when taking into consideration racial disparities in both mental health treatment and juvenile justice system involvement. In social sciences, qualitative research is helpful as a means to gather personal perspectives. In turn, these perspectives are useful in developing relevant recommendations based on the problems observed among respondents, in this case juvenile mental health and juvenile justice professionals. To that end, I interviewed five key stakeholders working in juvenile justice and children’s mental health to assess their perceptions of persistent gaps in the service system for justice-involved youth with mental health problems. These interviews provided me with some insight regarding stakeholder perspectives on systemic gaps across states and child-serving systems. I am going to provide a summary of themes and associated recommendations based on these interviews.
The themes that emerged from the interviews include family support and involvement, childhood trauma, cross-systems navigation and collaboration, racial disparities, and access to services. For this post, I am only going to deep dive into two of the most common themes: family support and involvement and racial disparities.
The theme surrounding family support was most widely represented across the five respondents. For example, one of the respondents described difficulty keeping youth engaged in services due to generational trauma and cultural issues, specific to the families of youth:
“…it’s a double-edged [sic] sword and I think like because there’s like so much trauma we’re already dealing with, we’re working with families with generational trauma and cultural issues, like working with kids who live with grandparents who don’t believe in therapy and don’t want police involved or they don’t want to bring kids to the hospital.”
For youth, especially youth involve in the mental health and justice systems, family support is crucial to their success and the research literature has long established the benefit of keeping youth within the home. However, this becomes difficult when parent involvement and support is not offered.
Another notable theme that was a growing concern among respondents were racial disparities in both the mental health and justice systems, as youth involved in both the behavioral health and justice system are disproportionally youth of color. One respondent described that juvenile justice professionals,
“… know there are differences in who receives diversion. These disparities are evident because we get the kids. They end up with us at [juvenile justice organization] and we have mostly Black and Brown kids with us.”
Multiple respondents identified the need for increased representation of minority groups among providers to better relate to the culture, language, and experiences of youth of color.
Implications for Child & Adolescent Behavioral Health
Youth with mental health problems and juvenile justice system involvement are a very vulnerable population. It is imperative that policymakers address the persistent gaps in the service systems that emerged as common themes through the stakeholder interviews and are also supported by the research literature, specifically the need to reduce the overrepresentation of minority youth in the mental health and justice systems. The first step in addressing these gaps in services is to educate the leadership of organizations and agencies who serve these youth. As described in one of the respondent interviews,
“there are not standards for what it would look like to have true racial equity work.”
We must develop and define the standards to view these systems through a lens of racial equity and this begins at the leadership level. My findings also generated recommendations to address the gaps at the intersection of youth mental health and juvenile justice.
I propose five recommendations based on the common themes identified among stakeholders:
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Katelind Halldorsson Melendez is pursuing a Master’s of Science in Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health at the University of South Florida, with a focus in leadership. Her research interests lie in the intersection of children’s mental health and juvenile justice, as the literature provides evidence that many youth involved in the justice system have underlying behavioral health problems. Through her internship at the Children’s Mental Health Network, she hopes to dive deeper into this topic. Katelind also works full-time as the Assistant Program Director at the Criminal Justice, Mental Health, and Substance Abuse Technical Assistance Center (CJMHSA TAC) at USF. At the CJMHSA TAC, she delivers training and technical assistance related to best practices in criminal justice, juvenile justice, and behavioral health to grantees across the State of Florida. Through existing partnerships in the field, Katelind hopes to bring value to the CMHN and broaden her knowledge on children’s behavioral health outside of Florida with guidance and mentorship through this unique and exciting internship opportunity.