At the recent 2012 NASW conference, Christopher Mallett, Ph.D., Esq., LISW spoke on common risks children and teens experience which can increase potential involvement with juvenile court. If there are mental health problems, substance abuse, trauma, victimization or early aggression, a youth is more likely to be at risk. Mallett is an Associate Professor at Cleveland State University.
Family-related risks include: “low parental involvement, inconsistent parenting, parent criminality and parent-child separation- such as foster care”. He outlined school and neighborhood related risks which may contribute to delinquency. The neighborhood risks involve high unemployment which can contribute to instability, and unsafe conditions in the community. If a teen’s peers are a negative influence, often truant, or the teen experiences learning issues, disability, failure or academic problems, these are more likely to contribute to delinquency. Discipline problems, moving frequently, or other transitions also impact one’s risk. Mallett’s point was that a lot can be done with early intervention to help the at-risk group avoid delinquency or at least lessen duration or involvement with the juvenile court and child welfare systems.
Mallett said there were 744,000 cases of substantiated abuse or neglect last year. He cited statistics of mental health disorders among the detained/incarcerated youth population (35-80%-dependent on year and study) versus the general youth population (9-18%). Similar disparities exist with maltreatment victimization, learning disabilities, and substance abuse. The detained youth population is disproportionately represented versus the general population. Multiple exposures to trauma predispose one for mental health problems. Of the substantiated cases, he cited statistics that neglect ranges from 48-80%, physical abuse 17-27%, sexual abuse 9-17% and psychological/emotional abuse 4-7%. (Percentages dependent on year reported and survey methodology.) It should be mentioned that adolescents account for 20% of cases of national child and youth maltreatment cases. Not all youth are affected equally; some are resilient and have support systems, or other coping abilities.
Teens in foster care, behind one or more grade levels, or experiencing maltreatment may be more likely to experience mental health and substance abuse problems. This can ‘place youth at high risk for suicide ideation, attempts, and completions. Serious mental health problems have been found to impact more than one in four juvenile justice system involved youth,’ as Mallet noted in his presentation. He outlined which mental and behavioral health disorders detained/incarcerated youth are more likely to suffer, noting that ‘two thirds of males and three fourths of females meet criteria for at least one mental health disorder’.
Other risk factors named by Mallett included substance abuse and learning disabilities- often co-occurring or ‘comorbid’. ‘This group represents up to 20 percent of youthful offenders within incarceration facilities,’ he said. The second portion of the presentation focused on decreasing maltreatment, assessments, programming, screening tools, effective interventions, and positive evidence-based reform initiatives. Many programs have been introduced over the last 15 years to move youth away from incarceration/institutionalization through the work of the Annie E. Casey Foundation [JDAI], Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative. The NASW presentation held extensive reference notes and bibliography of resources. A central focus is on evidence- based intervention, with science and solid outcomes data behind the program.
This month, Pomegranate Health Systems launches its unique juvenile competency program for teens adjudicated as incompetent to stand trial due to mental or developmental disorders. The program focuses on training in competency alongside mental and behavioral health counseling. Read more about the program on our website at: http://www.phs-kids.com.
[Photo credit: Teen in handcuffs by Alptraum Dreamstime.com 4318225]