With funding from the MacArthur Foundation and the Washington State Partnership Council for Juvenile Justice, a project team, including the University of Washington and Center for Children and Youth Justice with guidance from the National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice, convened working and advisory group committees to identify opportunities for reform in state policy that would move us towards reduced use of formal court processes for youth with mental health challenges. The product of these efforts was the development and passage of HB 1524, “Providing for Juvenile Mental Health and Diversion Strategies.” The bill adjusted the following elements of existing state statute:
- Expanded the existing adult statute for law enforcement diversion to juveniles who are determined to need mental health services and who have not committed a violent offense. These youth are now eligible to be taken to a placement other than detention which may include an evaluation and treatment facility, a location already identified by law enforcement for mental health diversion, or another alternative location that has the capacity to evaluate the youth, develop a behavioral health plan and initiate treatment. The alternative placement allows for a hold up to 12 hours and the youth must be examined by a mental health professional within three hours of arrival.
- Expanded discretionary diversion from two to three times for allowable offenses – allowable offenses exclude Class A felonies, Class B felonies or Class C felonies if the crime is against person or harassment.
- Increased allowable hours of counseling that could be ordered under a diversion agreement to 30 and expanded the definition of “community agency” to include physician, counselor, school, treatment provider in addition to a community-nonprofit organization.
The bill passed with strong bipartisan support and expands the ability of counties to divert youth from formal processing; however, a strategy is needed to address the lack of available, effective mental health services in smaller counties. While Washington State is a national leader in juvenile justice evidence-based practice implementation and recent state policy initiatives are moving the state towards similar progress in children’s mental health, availability of effective children’s mental health services is currently fragmented. Only a small number of counties in Washington State can provide youth access to high quality services with demonstrated effectiveness. As a result, juvenile courts often have few options or are unaware of the best options when attempting to connect youth with community services.
Dr. Walker and Dr. Trupin were instrumental in the drafting and passage of HB 1524 and are strong advocates for the development of a strategic plan to assist counties across Washington State to make best use of the new and exciting statute. Legislative reform is only meaningful if jurisdictions have the means to incorporate the mandates in the most effective ways possible. Current gaps and opportunities for reform in state policy to move towards reducing the use of formal court processes for youth with mental health challenges have been achieved – provisions of HB 1524 are likely to be utilized more effectively if communities receive support in their efforts to do so. This project proposes to address this issue by piloting a resource mapping strategy to leverage existing best practices and improve coordination between juvenile courts and mental health agencies. This is expected to not only reduce the number of youth with mental health needs within the juvenile justice system, but to improve the quality of mental health services being received by justice-involved youth. The project will accomplish the above goals through three activities:
- We will work with one county to identify mental health providers most aligned with effective mental health practice and assist county systems to develop memoranda of understanding to formalize collaboration.
- Building off the experiences with the pilot exercise and existing best practices for mental health diversion, we will develop a Mental Health Diversion Guidebook and disseminate through Washington State.
We will work with the state Department of Behavioral Health and Recovery to examine the feasibility of a juvenile justice certification training for mental health counselors.
This project is expected to not only reduce the number of youth with mental health needs within the juvenile justice system, but to improve the quality of mental health services being received by justice-involved youth.