[This post was written by Ashley Edwards, Kelly Graves, and Claretta Witherspoon, of the Reclaiming Futures site in Guilford County, NC.]
North Carolina’s Action for Children recently released the 2009 Youth Delinquency Prevention Report Card
. The release of these data will inform service delivery and outreach to adolescents throughout the state, and can be instrumental in helping us advocate for continued investment and expansion of the Reclaiming Futures program.
According to the report card, most adolescents entering North Carolina's juvenile justice system with mental health or substance abuse issues have not been diagnosed and have not received services through state human service or education systems. Additionally, current mental health and substance abuse services are inadequate in regards to “identification, assessment, and treatment” and require coordination, organization, and funding investments to improve system processes and outcomes.
Most importantly, the release of these data serves as a reminder that the juvenile justice system is not the ideal vehicle for mental health and substance abuse service delivery. So although these findings reinforce the importance of implementing Reclaiming Futures, the most obvious conclusion highlights a continued need for early intervention programming to direct youth into necessary services before they become involved with the juvenile justice system.
And, Reclaiming Futures sites are poised to play a critical role in piloting strategies and practices that can allow for early identification and strengthened service referral networks for youth before they enter the juvenile justice system. As a key step within the Reclaiming Futures model, service providers currently are developing strategies to overcome service coordination and organization barriers, and plan to apply these strategies and research findings to inform service delivery. But, we must recognize that improving service provision within the juvenile justice system will not have the desired impact on youth outcomes unless successful strategies also are effectively applied within less restrictive environments.
Recognizing these long-term challenges will assist local and statewide initiatives in North Carolina, including Reclaiming Futures, in developing research-based responses to address current identification, assessment, and treatment capacity issues for youth before they engage in criminal or delinquent behavior.