New York – Center for the Promotion of Mental Health in Juvenile Justice

New York - Center for the Promotion of Mental Health in Juvenile Justice
Garrett Lee Smith State
New York

This proposal targets both the moderate level of community adolescent risk for suicide, and the more acute level of risk that obtains in juvenile justice populations. We outline both well-established school-based suicide prevention efforts (TeenScreen) as well as those directed at youth in juvenile community probation (Project Connect). With the guidance of an expert Advisory Board, and in a partnership with state and local probation and mental health authorities, Project Connect offers a 2-day gatekeeper training that considers information about adolescent disorder, treatment options, and ways to better engage families in the referral process and to better connect with local mental health providers. The TeenScreen and Project Connect activities presented in this proposal address 26 of the NYS Suicide Prevention Plan’s action steps/recommendations that address adolescents.

Eighty-eight probation officers in four NYS counties have undergone Project Connect’s 2-day Gatekeeper Training. Training resulted in significant improvements in a range of scores: an almost 20 percent increase in mental health knowledge and a four percent increase in perceived mental health competency. While training increased officers’ knowledge in general, it was particularly beneficial for those without prior mental health experience, raising their scores to the level of their more experienced counterparts.

We collected baseline data on 584 youth in the four participating counties. We found that only 15% were already in mental health or substance use treatment at case opening, but that a further 24% were newly identified during their probation department contact as having mental health or substance use needs. Probation practices that would ease linkage to mental health/substance use providers were not universal, even for identified youths. Of those identified, approximately two-thirds (68%) received a referral, although POs actually implemented referrals for only about one-third of identified youths. Factors significantly related to the odds of being new identified with mental health needs included being a repeat offender, having a PO with higher scores on a test of Mental Health Knowledge, and residing in a county that did NOT have a documented shortage in mental health professionals. Not all charts indicated a reason for the identification a youth’s mental health status. Mention of internalizing problems was rare, with fewer than 5% of charts noting a problem that might reflect either an anxiety or affective disorder.