Examining the Social, Emotional and Behavioral Needs of Youth Involved in the Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice Systems

By Neely-Barnes, Susan; Whitted, Katheryn | Journal of Health and Human Services Administration, Fall 2011 | Go to article overview

Examining the Social, Emotional and Behavioral Needs of Youth Involved in the Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice Systems


Neely-Barnes, Susan, Whitted, Katheryn, Journal of Health and Human Services Administration


INTRODUCTION

In the United States, one in five youth has a mental, emotional, or behavioral disorder and one in ten has impairment of functioning at home, school or in the community (National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare, 2009). In the child welfare and juvenile justice systems, prevalence rates of mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders are higher with some studies indicating that rates may exceed fifty percent (Burns, Phillips, Wagner, Barth, Kolko, Campbell, & Yandsverk, 2004; dosReis, Zito, Safer & Soeken, 2001; Teplin, Abram, McClelland, Dulcan, Mericle, 2002). Yet, there is still much to be learned about the mental health needs of youth in care. The Center for Mental Health in Schools at UCLA (2008) asserts that available information on prevalence and incidence of mental health and treatment services varies in both quantity and quality and there is a need for improved surveillance of children's mental health. The current study seeks to build upon prior work using secondary data analysis from a non-profit agency that provides comprehensive services to youth involved in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. It investigates the extent to which youth who were placed in out-of-home care (or at risk of being placed in care) reported having problems with peers, symptoms associated with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), conduct problems and emotional problems. This study examines how these difficulties in each problem domain vary by age group, race, and gender.

Similarities among Youth in the Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice Systems

Historically, the juvenile justice and child welfare systems have been examined independently; however, in recent years attention has been directed at the similarities among youth involved in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. Leone and Weinberg (2010) explain that although youth initially come to the attention of the Department of Children's Services for different reasons either due to abuse and neglect or because they have committed delinquent acts, they often have similar needs and experiences. For example, the majority of youth who enter the child welfare system, and many of the youth who are involved in the juvenile justice system have experienced abuse and neglect, dysfunctional home environments, destructive and inconsistent parenting practices, poverty, emotional and behavioral disorders, poor mental and physical health care, poor family-school relationships, exposure to deviant peers as well as community and societal problems that have contributed to their entry into the child welfare and juvenile justice systems (Derzon & Lipsey, 2000; Leone & Weinberg 2010; Wasserman & Seracini, 2001).

A number of youth, in both the child welfare system and the juvenile justice systems, are placed in treatment settings away from their families. When youth are removed from their homes, they often experience multiple losses (i.e., family, friends, school, neighborhood, favorite possessions). Loss of the youth's primary caregiver can be detrimental to the youth's social-emotional development and mental health (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2000).

Youth in both systems have more mental health problems than youth in the general population and their mental health needs often go undetected and unaddressed (Halfon, Berkowitz, & Klee, 1992; Mears, 2001; National Justice Network, 2009). It has been estimated that between 50% and 80% of youth involved in the child welfare system suffer from moderate to severe mental health problems (dosReis et al., 2001; Halfon, Mendonca, & Berkowitz, 1995; Shufelt & Cocozza, 2006). Many of these youth involved in the juvenile justice system have one or more mental health disorders (Shufelt & Cocozza, 2006). Shufelt and Cocozza (2006) found that among youth in the juvenile justice system, as many as 70% had a diagnosable mental health disorder; and, of the youth who met the diagnosis for a mental disorder, 79% of youth met criteria for two or more diagnoses, and over 60% of these youth were diagnosed with three or more mental health disorders.

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