AHCJ member Laurie Udesky’s writing was part of the winning entry in the weekly newspaper category of the Price Child Health and Welfare Journalism awards. Udesky’s award-winning piece in the East Bay Express, a weekly paper that covers Alameda and Contra Costa counties in northern California, profiles a local mental health court created to assist teenagers who have broken the law, but suffer from underlying psychiatric issues. It’s an innovative approach to reducing the load on the juvenile detention and judicial systems.
In Alameda County and about fourteen other US counties, attorneys have teamed up with judges, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, and families to offer treatment and services to minors with psychiatric problems who’ve broken the law. The idea is to get teenagers like Cindy out of the penal system and help them lead productive lives. Instead of watching kids get thrown out of school for behavior problems, advocates attempt to create environments that would enable them to stay in school. Rather than cycling through group homes, these kids get help so they can live with their families. Instead of simply handing out referrals for psychiatric help, mental-health court makes sure that teens actually attend their appointments. And rather than simply sentencing kids to jail for violating probation, mental-health court tries to address the problems that caused the violation.