Blog: Adolescent Mental Health

[New Report] Results from the 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Mental Health Findings

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) released its annual report on mental health, The 2011 Mental Health Findings Report (PDF download), with new insights about mental disorders of 12 through 17 year olds.
Estimates in the report include major depressive episodes (MDE), treatment for depression (among youths with MDE), and mental health service utilization. The report focuses mainly on trends between 2010 and 2011 and differences across population subgroups in 2011. Major findings from the report are included below.
Teens were mostly likely to seek mental health services for depression. Additional reasons are included in the chart below:

Experts Say Mental Health Effects of Hurricane Sandy Could be Powerful and More; News Roundup

Juvenile Justice Reform

  • Juvenile Court Reform Details Emerging (
    Shelby County, Tennessee, Juvenile Court Chief Administrative Officer Larry Scroggs describes the court as being “sort of at the end of the beginning” in a review process by the U.S. Justice Department. And after this summer’s scathing report from the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division of the court’s due process practices, Scroggs told those at a public hearing this week that the plan for systemic changes at the court will likely be a three- to five-year process.
  • Juvenile Justice Judge Speaks to At-Risk Students about Staying in School (
    As students celebrate Red Ribbon Week, the Burke County Alternative School in Georgia invited juvenile justice judge Doug Flanagan to talk to them about the importance of staying in school. Judge Flanagan says this is one of the best schools in Burke County.
  • After the Violence, the Rest of Their Lives (The New York Times)
    At a time when the homicide rate in Chicago has risen sharply, jumping 25 percent over all since last year and 100 percent or more in a few gang-heavy neighborhoods, the research project offers a portrait of both the perpetrators and the victims in struggling, gang-ridden neighborhoods.

Troubled Teens Could Benefit from Online Access to Health Records and More; News Roundup

Juvenile Justice Reform

  • Why So Many Hawaiian, Samoan And Filipino Youth In Justice System? (Honolulu Civil Beat)
    Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander and mixed-race youth are disproportionately represented in Hawaii's juvenile justice system, a recent study concludes. The statewide analysis found that Hawaiian, Samoan and Filipino youth "fare worse than Caucasians at the stages of arrest," a pattern that continues as the young people move through detention, probation and protective services.
  • More Juvenile Offenders Put Through Diversion Programs, Less Locked Up (
    Fewer young people in New Jersey are being locked up for offenses they commit, so states a report issued Wednesday by Newak-based children’s advocacy group Advocates for Children of New Jersey. The “Kids Count Special Report: Juvenile Justice” states that last year, the state incarcerated nearly 7,000 fewer juveniles than it did prior to the start of an initiative to bring down the what ACNJ deemed to be over use of juvenile detention.
  • Minorities Prevalent in Juvenile Justice System (
    In Minnesota, juveniles who are minorities are three times as likely to be arrested than young people who are white. A report from the Minnesota Office of Justice Programs compares rates of minority youth in the state's juvenile justice system to those of white youth. The report finds that youth of color are more than one and a half times more likely to be securely detained than white youth.
  • 'A Door to Anywhere': Juvenile Justice Center Aims to Get Kids on the Right Track (
    "When the juvenile court system started in Chicago 110 years ago, they realized that there's hope for children," Arizona Supreme Court Justice Robert Brutinel told an audience of 300 at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday for the new Yavapai County Juvenile Justice Center in Prescott.
  • Study Reveals Disparities in Juvenile Justice (New America Media)
    Youth-of-color are disparately represented at all stages of justice-system processing in Minnesota, according to a report from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Office of Justice Programs. The OJP report compares rates of involvement of youth-of-color at key stages of Minnesota’s juvenile justice system to those of white youth.

Supporting Systems Change in Reclaiming Futures Communities

Reclaiming Futures has helped communities break the cycle of drugs, alcohol and crime for 10 years. But how exactly does Reclaiming Futures accomplish systems change? We sat down with National Executive Director Susan Richardson to learn about the model and benefits of becoming a Reclaiming Futures site.

Lori Howell (LH): What makes Reclaiming Futures successful in a variety of communities across the country?  
Susan J. Richardson (SJR): Reclaiming Futures offers powerful tools and resources to communities helping teens overcome drugs, alcohol and crime. We work to improve drug, alcohol and mental health treatment and connect teens to positive activities and caring adults.
LH: That sounds like quite a feat! How do you accomplish this? 
SJR: Reclaiming Futures unites juvenile courts, probation, adolescent substance abuse treatment, teen mental health treatment and the community to reclaim youth.

Should 24-Year-Old Offenders be Considered Juveniles? This Story and More; News Roundup

Juvenile Justice Reform

  • Youth Crime's Decline (
    The new approach to juvenile crime hasn’t just worked. It has worked spectacularly. A report last Sunday by The News & Observer’s Thomasi McDonald said that the number of young people under 16 charged with violent crimes has dropped by nearly 37 percent. The arrests in that same age group for property crimes are down 40 percent.
  • Georgia Considers Juvenile Justice Reforms (The Augusta Chronicle)
    After overhauling its adult criminal justice system to provide alternative sentences for nonviolent offenders and reduce skyrocketing prison costs, the state of Georgia is turning its attention to the juvenile justice system.
  • DJJ Launches Roadmap to System Excellence (Florida Department of Juvenile Justice)
    The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) invited the people of Florida today to participate in a conversation about the Roadmap to System Excellence. The Roadmap builds on reforms already underway at DJJ and guides Florida on the path to becoming the national model for juvenile justice administration.
  • Should 24-Year-Old Offenders be Considered Juveniles? (
    When the National Partnership for Juvenile Services annual symposium opened in Las Vegas, Jason Bowser, a youth service director from Columbus, Ind., told an executive committee that one of the standing committees was focusing on the question of “What is a juvenile?”
  • Counties Push to Bypass State Youth Lockups (
    Counties in Texas might soon be allowed to incarcerate all their teenage lawbreakers locally rather than send them to state-run lockups that have been plagued by violence, high recidivism rates and gang activity in recent years, officials confirmed Wednesday.
  • Juvenile Justice and the Campaign (
    California's second largest county is coping with widespread gang violence and prescription drug abuse among youth. But as election day nears, juvenile justice remains a whisper in a monsoon of economic rhetoric.
  • [Opinion] Adolescents in Grown-Up Jails (The New York Times)
    The practice of confining young people to adult jails and prisons is both counterproductive and inhumane. Adolescents who are locked up with adults are more likely to be raped, battered or driven to suicide than young people who are handled through the juvenile justice system. After the trauma of doing hard, adult time, young people often return home as damaged individuals who are more likely to commit violent crimes and end up back inside.
  • Florida To Completely Privatize Juvenile Correctional Facilities (
    In an effort to reduce costs, Florida's state-run residential programs for juveniles will soon be completely privatized. The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice announced Monday that the state will relinquish control of the five remaining public youth residential centers by October 2013.
  • Dog Trainer Teaches Empathy at Tehama Juvenile Hall (
    When dog trainer Gary Watts faces a group of kids detained in juvenile hall, he's focused on his mission. With a Labrador retriever named Abby in tow, he puts her through her paces and methodically demonstrates the fine points of canine obedience.

New Findings on Youth Brain Development and Decision Making

The National Juvenile Justice Network recently published new research exploring the significant differences in teens’ brains compared to adults’. The latest research, “Using Adolescent Brain Research to Inform Policy: A Guide for Juvenile Justice Advocates,” looks at specific areas of the brain and how they function when involved in particular activities and thinking. This has allowed researchers to learn a great deal about how teens and adults differ when using their brains.
Major findings from the report include:

  • Brain development takes place in stages and is not fully complete in adolescence. The frontal lobe, tasked with decision making, planning, judgement, expression of emotions and impulse control may not be fully mature until the mid-20s.
  • The limbic system, which helps to process and manage emotion, is also developing during adolescence. This causes adolescents to experience more mood swings and impulsive behavior than adults.
  • Levels of dopamine production shift during adolescence. As a result, activities that once were exciting to youth may not be so as they enter adolescence, and thus they may seek excitement through increasingly risky behavior.
  • When adolescents make choices involving risk, they do not engage the higher-thinking, decision-and reward areas of the brain as much as adults do. This can lead adolescents to actually overstate rewards without fully evaluating the long-term consequences or risks involved in a situation.

[OPINION] Florida is Poorly Equipped to Deal with Juveniles Accused of Murder and More; News Roundup

Juvenile Justice Reform

  • DJJ Offenders Meet Their Victims In New BARJ Program (
    Tuesday there was a ribbon cutting ceremony at the Department of Juvenile Justice's Broad River Road complex in South Carolina as officials announced the implementation of a program called Balanced and Restorative Justice, or BARJ. The program allows young offenders to collaborate with their parents, the victim and officers to come up with solutions to their crimes.
  • New Term for U.S. Supreme Court Prompts Reflection on Children's Rights (Juvenile Law Center)
    Since 1917, the first Monday in October has been the official opening day of the annual term of the United States Supreme Court. For the first time in many years, there are no cases currently set for review that raise large questions about children’s status under the Constitution. So … it seems like a good time to pause and reflect on how children and youth have fared in recent years.
  • Feds End Monitoring of Juvenile Justice Spending (
    The Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice has satisfied federal auditors that it no longer requires intensive monitoring, members of the state agency’s board learned Thursday. The monitoring began last winter when officials from the U.S. Department of Education issued citations to the state agency for how it was handling $3.3 million in federal funds earmarked for schooling children in detention.
  • [OPINION] Florida is Poorly Equipped to Deal with Juveniles Accused of Murder (
    The twists and turns in the case of 13-year-old Cristian Fernandez show how ill-equipped Florida is to deal with juveniles in such cases. A recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in an Alabama case leaves the young man facing charges for murder for which there are no applicable penalties.

Middle Schools Add a Team Rule: Get a Drug Test and More; News Roundup

Juvenile Justice Reform

  • Does the Juvenile Justice System Really Work? (
    A five-month-long investigation spearheaded by Ashley Luthern of The Vindicator in Youngstown, Ohio examined the successes and tragedies produced as local courts, probation and schools struggle to address “disproportionate minority contact rates.”
  • Frequency Of Kids Sent To Detention Varies Widely (
    Juveniles in the Hartford, Connecticut judicial district who break the law are far more likely to be locked in a pre-trial detention center following arrests or referrals than juveniles from the state's other districts, an analysis of data from the judicial department shows.
  • 12 Investigates: Can Brain Injury Lead to Prison? (
    Are more kids ending up in jail because of a traumatic brain injury? A study underway of Virginia's Juvenile Justice system recently revealed as many as 20% of the children incarcerated right now have a traumatic brain injury.
  • Juvenile Justice System Youths Express Themselves in Play (
    Over the summer, a group of youths in the Clackamas County, Oregon juvenile justice system prepared a performance that was central to who they are. They received a standing ovation for their show, "Choices," and for their courage in telling their stories.

Idaho Screening for Mental Health, Substance Abuse Problems in Juvenile Justice System

As many in the juvenile justice community sadly know, a focus on diagnosing and treating mental health and substance abuse problems in detained juveniles developed relatively late nationally. This is particularly true in the State of Idaho, which did not have systematic, routine mental health and substance abuse screening occurring in its 12 juvenile detention centers (JDCs) until 2008. Since the inception of the Clinical Services Program (CSP), a collaborative effort funded by the Idaho Department of Juvenile Corrections and the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, Idaho has made dramatic strides in screening for mental health and substance abuse problems in juveniles entering its JDCs, and recommending and (and sometimes coordinating) treatment for these juveniles upon their return to their communities.
Starting in 2008, my colleagues and I at Boise State University’s Center for Health Policy have performed annual, multimodal assessments of the CSP. One of the main components of our evaluation has involved documenting the prevalence of mental health and substance abuse problems. What we’ve found is that juveniles entering Idaho’s JDCs should be considered to have at least one of these types of problems unless demonstrated otherwise; in other words, having a mental health or substance abuse problem, or both types of problems, is the rule rather than the exception to it.

Director Appointed to Office of Adolescent Health

Evelyn M. Kappeler was appointed Monday from "acting" to permanent Director of the Health and Human Services Office of Adolescent Health.
Ms. Kappeler was first appointed in 2010 by the Assistant Secretary for Health to build and lead -- in an acting capacity --the newly funded Office of Adolescent Health (OAH). She established the office and implemented its signature $110 million grant program aimed at reducing teen pregnancy through the replication of evidence-based program models and research and demonstration projects.
Ms. Kappeler convened the Health and Human Services-wide Adolescent Health Working Group, a first of its kind collaboration among the many agencies and offices with interest in ensuring the health of adolescents and young adults.
The group focuses on their shared interests in promoting healthy social, emotional and physical development during adolescence to help teens grow into productive, healthy adults and reaching adolescents who are most in need of integrated, coordinated services and care.

Promise Unfulfilled: Juvenile Justice in America

In partnership with several juvenile justice advocates around the country, Cathryn Crawford, a national expert in juvenile and criminal justice, has edited a new book entitled "Promise Unfulfilled: Juvenile Justice in America" (IDEA 2012).
Through a combination of original and reprinted articles written by academics, lawyers, and advocates, “Promise Unfulfilled” addresses the problems with designing and implementing effective systems to deal with children in conflict with the law, and it describes various challenges children in the juvenile justice system face and offers suggestions for reform.
The authors include James Bell, Founder and Director of the W. Haywood Burns Institute, who wrote on the over-incarceration of youth of color; Jacqueline Bullard, an appellate defender in Illinois, who wrote on best interest versus expressed interest representation of minors in delinquency court; and Neelum Arya (Barry Law, Campaign for Youth Justice) who wrote on state legislative victories from 2005-2010 in the area of removing youth from the adult criminal justice system. I have a chapter that is adapted from my article, Culture Clash: The Challenge of Lawyering Across Difference in Juvenile Court, 62 Rutgers L. Rev. 959 (2010). There are also chapters on the school-to-prison pipeline, addressing the mental health needs of juveniles, and best practices for working with girls in the delinquency system.

Teens with Mental Health Conditions More Likely to be Prescribed Long-Term Opioids for Chronic Pain

The Journal of Adolescent Health recently published a study in its June issue titled, Mental Health Disorders and Long-term Opioid Use Among Adolescents and Young Adults With Chronic Pain. This study concluded that adolescences and young adults with preexisting mental health conditions are 2.4 times more likely to be prescribed opioids over extended periods of time for chronic pain. The most common documented chronic pain complaints included back pain, neck pain, headache and arthritis or joint pain.

Researchers from Seattle Children’s Research Institute and the University of Washington looked at 13 to 24 year-olds across the West, Midwest and Southwest United States to examine the association between long-term opioid use and mental health disorders. They found that older male youth who live in low-income communities with fewer residents who attended college, were even more likely to use opioids for extended periods.

Program fosters trust between youth, police and more; news roundup

Juvenile Justice Reform

Juvenile Justice Reform and Adolescent Substance Abuse Treatment News Roundup

Juvenile Justice Reform

  • Mentally ill children who don't get help can end up in criminal justice system (Northwest Indiana Times)  Parents, judges, prosecutors, and other officials in Indiana say there is a multi-agency failure to provide mental health services to the children who need it most.
  • Are too many kids being sent to court for minor offenses? (Southern California Public Radio)  A growing wave of juvenile justice experts say school districts send too many students to court for minor offenses. Usually those kids are African American or Latino. A nonprofit’s effort to track school citations within Los Angeles Unified School District indicates that the district is following that pattern.
  • Director of troubled youth agency to retire (Texas Tribune)  Cherie Townsend, the executive director of the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, announced Tuesday that she will retire at the end of June after nearly four years leading the state's institutions for youth offenders.

Adolescent Substance Abuse Treatment

  • New report: Health care costs drop if adolescent substance abusers use 12-step programs (University of Wisconsin-Madison) The use of 12-step programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, by adolescents with a history of drug and alcohol abuse not only reduces the risk of relapse but also leads to lower health care costs, according to research by the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.
  • Spotting depression in kids is essential (Albert Lea Tribune) There is a common misconception that many of the symptoms of depression, such as irritability and mood swings, are a normal part of adolescence. This is not the case and should be taken into account if there are other symptoms.
  • A vaccination for depression (Chicago Tribune) Dr. Benjamin Van Voorhees, who is chief of general pediatrics at Children's Hospital University of Illinois, and his team identify kids at risk and then use a combination of traditional counseling and Internet-based learning to stave off mental disorders so they don't fall into substance abuse.

Jobs, Grants, Events and Webinars
Please share the Reclaiming Futures Opportunity Board with your colleagues in the juvenile justice, adolescent substance abuse and teen mental health areas. It's free to browse and post!

May 9: Children's Mental Health Awareness Day

On May 9, 2012, the OJJDP and SAMHSA will observe National Children's Mental Health Awareness Day to promote recovery and resilience for young people in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems. The two agencies will support efforts to help the public recognize signs of chlid trauma, promote treatment for children's traumatic experiences and promote trauma-informed social services and supports. 
Why is this important?
As we learned at this year's JMATE conference, childhood mental health problems increase the risk of substance use and addiction (because many teens are self-medicating) and substance use increases the risk of developing mental health problems. Trauma (especially when experienced at a young age) severely affects a child's ability to cope and affects brain size (NOT intelligence). And 92% of incarcerated kids have experienced one or more traumas during their childhood.
To learn more about National Children's Mental Health Awareness Day and to plan an activity, visit

Homeboy Industries: Changing Lives and Creating Opportunity in East Los Angeles

I really wanted to attend the Homeboy Industries and teen substance abuse interventions panel at JMATE, but didn't make it to the session. So I missed learning about Homeboy Industries' Project STAR program that works with recently released juveniles with a history of the substance abuse. They offer in-house, trauma-informed treatment that is sensitive to the unique needs of formerly gang-involved youth. Mental health services are a central part of the program, as are job trainings and academic and life skills classes.
Started as an alternative to gang violence in Los Angeles, Homeboy Industries trains and hires at-risk, recently released and former gang involved young people with the goals of transforming troubled youth into productive members of their communities. They provide free counseling, education, tattoo removal, substance abuse and addiction assistance, job training and job placement services.
Fast Company has a terrific piece on Homeboy Industries, its founder (Father Gregory Boyle) and the key people in charge of running the nonprofit.
Father Gregory Boyle moved to East Los Angeles 26 years ago, and began walking and biking the neighborhood. He became friendly with the community and even visited gang members in the hospital. And one day, he realized that he could help residents escape the pervasive cycle of violence.

Juvenile Mental Health Court in DC Shows Early Success

In Washington D.C., juveniles charged with certain offenses (including some misdemeanors and non-violent, low-level felonies) and diagnosed with a mental illness, can apply to be diverted to a specialized mental health court.
There, under the guidance of Judge Joan Goldfrank, youths are held accountable for their specific problem behavior—such as school attendance, substance abuse, or avoiding mental health treatment.
Early results are encouraging: out of the 56 enrolled in 2011, only eight were subsequently re-arrested. This rate, 14 percent, is far lower than the average re-arrest rates out of D.C.’s general juvenile courts, which hovers around forty percent.

OJJDP Seeking Probation Agencies for Youth Mental Health Screening Project

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention is seeking state-level probation agencies in adolescent mental health screening and risk/needs assessment areas.
From JuvJust:

The National Youth Screening and Assessment Project will support the participation of two state-level juvenile probation agencies in the Mental Health Screening and Risk/Needs Assessment in Juvenile Justice Demonstration Project. The probation agencies, which will be selected through a competitive process, will participate in the evaluation of an empirically informed approach to case planning. The project will evaluate and improve probation agencies’ decision-making skills when processing youth in the juvenile justice system, thereby reducing costs, improving resource allocation, and reducing further delinquency.

Sponsored by the OJJDP and John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, this initiative is part of a broader partnership to improve outcomes for youth involved in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems.
Applications are due February 27, 2012.

HHS Calls for Comments on Essential Health Benefits Package under the Affordable Care Act

In December, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a bulletin outlining proposed policies that will give states more flexibility and freedom to implement the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Under the proposed policies, states will have the ability to individually determine the list of services that make up the Essential Health Benefits Package under the ACA. These will be used to determine insurance coverage in future state insurance plans. HHS is currently accepting comments from the public on the plan until Tuesday, January 31, 2012, at
From the Bulletin:

Essential Health Benefits
The Affordable Care Act ensures Americans have access to quality, affordable health insurance. To achieve this goal, the law ensures health plans offered in the individual and small group markets, both inside and outside of the Affordable Insurance Exchanges (Exchanges), offer a comprehensive package of items and services, known as “essential health benefits.” Essential health benefits must include items and services within at least the following 10 categories:

  • Ambulatory patient services
  • Emergency services
  • Hospitalization
  • Maternity and newborn care
  • Mental health and substance use disorder services, including behavioral health treatment
  • Prescription drugs
  • Rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices
  • Laboratory services
  • Preventive and wellness services and chronic disease management, and
  • Pediatric services, including oral and vision care

New juvenile court guidelines help struggling students & more: news roundup

Juvenile Justice Reform

Adolescent Substance Abuse Treatment