Juvenile Outreach Programs Served 1,587 Youth in FY17

December 8, 2017 – What began as an effort to develop a collaborative partnership for Juvenile Outreach Programs in 2010 has turned into a sustained program that served 1,587 young people in Fiscal Year 2017.

The Department of Mental Health supports 14 Juvenile Outreach Programs (JOP) operated by Community Mental Health Centers throughout the state, all of which provide linkage and access to mental health services to young people who have become involved in the juvenile justice system. The programs provide assessments, community support, wraparound facilitation, and a number of other services to youth with serious emotional disorders and/or mental illnesses who are in detention centers or the juvenile justice system.

The JOP services provide not just access to treatment while the young people are in a detention center, but aftercare or follow-up services for six months as well. The goal for the youth is to improve their behavioral and emotional symptoms, and also to prevent future contacts between them and the youth courts.

“In the past seven years, services provided by the JOP have resulted in mental health services becoming a regular and very beneficial part of the lives of the youth staying at the Forrest County and Jones County Juvenile Detention Centers,” said Szilvia Legradi, JOP therapist for the Forrest and Jones County Detention Centers.

Youth there participate in individual and group therapy multiple times a week and can request sessions any time they feel the need to talk to the JOP therapist. They all participate in the treatment planning process as well, from initial assessment through discharge from the detention center. They also decide what mental health, educational, and vocational services they will receive, and provide feedback about the services.

In short, they receive a number of services that involve them and take their feedback into account, and the results have spoken for themselves. In Forrest and Jones Counties, 95 percent of youth were successfully transitioned back to their homes and the recidivism rate dropped three percent in FY17.

The JOP therapist there has also trained the officers in the Forrest County Juvenile Detention Center about mental health issues, including suicide prevention, adolescent brain development, social and cultural competency, as well as issues specific to adolescents.

“These trainings are the practical and educational platforms for the officers and faculty working with the teens to gain hands on knowledge and innovative techniques as how to handle situations in an age appropriate way along with understanding the deep seated issues that many of the youth are dealing with,” Legradi said. “The rapport building between officers and youth improved greatly since trainings have been conducted.”

In Region 10’s JOP in Lauderdale County, the program has allowed the constant and consistent presence of a mental health therapist at the juvenile center.

“Having a JOP mental health therapist available to collaborate with youth court counselors has really improved matching youth with the appropriate mental health services,” said George Dancy, Region 10. “The JOP mental health therapist has helped our mental health center develop programs better suited for both adjudicated and non-adjudicated youth who have been served through the juvenile center.”

Outcomes throughout the state have shown positive results for the children and youth served. In Lee County, 69 percent of youth in the program showed significant improvement in their symptoms. Leflore County had 90 percent of their clients participate in individual and family therapy sessions. In Jackson County, 77 percent of youth seen in the JOP were released to their homes, 19 percent were referred to a job/training program or a short term substance use program, and only four percent were referred for additional inpatient or residential service.

“The JOP program is most effective when the attitudes and the lifestyle choices of the youth served are targeted through a total community effort,” said Elizabeth Boyle, Children’s Director for Region 14’s Jackson County.

She said that included the cooperation and involvement of the youth court, Child Protection Services, schools, and parents.

“The effectiveness of the results is linked to the level of involvement by all identified parties to include support with lifestyle changes, education concerning making better choices, attendance and monitoring by drug court/youth court, and compliance with mental health appointments and medications, if prescribed,” Boyle said. “The best results have been observed when after care is made a part of the probation requirements.”

Sandra Parks, Director of the Division of Children and Youth in DMH, said the Juvenile Outreach Program has been a win-win for all people and agencies involved.

“The local youth courts and detention centers are better equipped to understand and refer youth to services quickly.  The Community Mental Health Centers have strengthened their partnership with their local court systems and have experienced positive youth and family outcomes,” Parks said.

Dwayne Nelson, also in the Division of Children and Youth, has been the program specialist since the Juvenile Outreach Program began. He collects the data for the program and provides technical assistance as needed. He has seen how effective each of the sites has been.

“There have been so many children with unaddressed mental health needs who have entered a juvenile justice system that is ill-equipped to assist them,” Nelson said. “The Juvenile Outreach Program has provided that bridge to connect juvenile Justice and mental health services for those young people who are in need.”