Youth across the country are facing an urgent mental health crisis. Experts like the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and Children’s Hospital Association have declared this a national emergency, and research has shown an increased number of youth being hospitalized for mental and behavioral health needs, CSG Justice Center reports. When youth use emergency departments to address mental and behavioral health crises, this is a strong indication that community-based solutions are not accessible. Thus, experts such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Emergency Physicians, and the Emergency Nurses Association have called for action from state and local policymakers to increase the availability of a continuum of crisis and behavioral health services for young people, including school-based initiatives, primary care and telehealth options, culturally specific approaches, first response models, and community-based care.
Expanding mental and behavioral health resources for youth will not only increase access to care and decrease hospitalizations, it will also keep youth from experiencing the juvenile justice system as a result of their behavioral health needs. Research shows that youth with behavioral health needs are overrepresented in the juvenile justice system—70 percent of youth have a diagnosable mental health condition within the system. Many juvenile justice leaders have responded by calling for and integrating more mental health supports.
In response to this critical need, jurisdictions are trying new approaches to meet youth’s behavioral health needs in the community and simultaneously divert youth with behavioral health needs from the juvenile justice system. Diversion can include making community-based services more accessible to avoid juvenile court altogether. It can also involve conducting screening and assessments at intake, if a youth is referred to court or is detained, to see if a young person’s needs may be more appropriately addressed in a treatment context. Some jurisdictions are going further by developing alternative first response options that center health care for youth in crisis. Examples include mobile crisis response teams, community assessment centers, credible messengers, and school-based initiatives.