Juvenile Justice Study Uncovers Disparities in Care for Youth of Color
August 20, 2010
By Eric Pickhartz
A new report funded by the Hogg Foundation identifies realistic solutions for disparities and failures in mental and behavioral health care for youth of color in the Texas juvenile justice system.
Southwest Key Programs, a nonprofit based in Austin, and the Inter-American Institute for Youth Justice at The University of Texas at Austin released the report after an indepth study funded by the Hogg Foundation.
“Juvenile Justice, Mental Health and Youth of Color: A Framework for Action in Texas” found inconsistencies in access and quality of mental health services and aftercare for youth in the Texas juvenile justice system, particularly minority youth. The study included focus group meetings; interviews of youth in the juvenile justice system, their families and mental health workers; and a comprehensive review of public documents, studies and reports.
The study found the juvenile justice system is unprepared and lacks the structure to effectively provide therapeutic treatment to meet long-term needs of minority youth. The system also needs to increase cultural competency and availability of quality services.
Regional and national experts in a variety of related fields attended a symposium to analyze and discuss the study findings. The group developed policy recommendations for improvements in mental health care for youth of color in the juvenile justice system.
“Children from communities of color are far less likely to receive public or private mental health services, largely due to poverty, lack of insurance coverage and less access to quality services in high-poverty areas. This study identifies key mental health issues facing youth of color in the juvenile justice system in Texas and, more importantly, how to approach and solve them,” said Dr. Juan Sánchez, CEO of Southwest Key Programs.
Among recommendations in the report:
Increasing access to services in the community through public health and education systems. Significant change can come from the grassroots level. Poverty and lack of insurance make it difficult to identify mental health issues that could be wrongfully diagnosed as behavioral problems.
Establishing a diversion from the juvenile justice system for youth with mental health conditions. Half the youth in the Texas system have a mental illness, but only a third receive appropriate care, the report said.
Increasing culturally competent and linguistically suitable screening and educational efforts to serve the state’s diverse youth. Every culture has a different perspective, value system and ideology, and those factors need to be considered when treating every youth.
Increasing family involvement and treatment for incarcerated youth. Support systems are vital, especially to youth. Families and friends who encourage youth to receive the care they need can be just as important as the care itself, especially when the care is provided through treatment plans in the juvenile justice system.
The report concluded that minority youth who have mental health conditions and are involved in the juvenile justice system are at a crucial time in their lives. Recommendations in the report can help them transition into successful young adults.