Juvenile Mental Health Court
The First Judicial District’s Mental Health Court Program is designed to divert certain mentally ill children out of the delinquency system and provide help and resources to these juveniles and their families.This court was the first of its kind in Colorado and one of the first juvenile mental health courts in the nation.
Kids with mental illness create a unique and potentially dangerous problem. They are often misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all. Mentally ill youth may begin breaking the law when they turn to illegal drugs in attempts to self-medicate. Desperate parents are often forced to call police to handle out-of-control kids (who are not true criminals) simply because parents don't know where else to turn.
The First Judicial District Juvenile Mental Health Court is a collaborative effort between the Jefferson Center for Mental Health, District Attorney, courts, Probation Department, Public Defenders' Office, Juvenile Assessment Center, Department of Human Services, Jeffco R-1 School District and the Rocky Mountain Children's Law Center.
To be eligible, mental health court participants must have a diagnosed mental illness. Their ages range from 12 to 18.
Community members having contact with mentally ill children may make referrals to the court. A comprehensive assessment of each child is presented to a screening committee. When determining whether the child is a good candidate, the committee considers the child's parents and their willingness to comply. This program cannot be successful unless everyone works together.
Once accepted, kids in the mental health court are assigned one of two tracks that provide a maximum of one or two years' supervision. Once the child successfully completes the terms and conditions imposed, his case is dismissed.
Mental Health Court Operation
A major difference between this program and traditional juvenile court is frequent court reviews, which are designed to closely follow the participant’s progress. Traditionally court appearances for juveniles in the delinquency system are spread out over time.
The mental health court requires each child to enter a contract with the Probation Department to be supervised at the Intensive Supervision Probation (ISP) level, meaning more frequent meetings with the probation officer than ordinary probation and unannounced visits to home and school. The family must agree to the contract’s conditions, support the child, and may be required to participate in family counseling.
The Juvenile Mental Health Court is both incentive- and sanction-based. The partner professionals working to make this program a success present rewards for positive behavior. Negative behavior can result in magistrate-ordered sanctions, which may include sending the misbehaving juvenile to Mount View Youth Services Center for a weekend, assigning the offender to a juvenile work crew, or requiring the child to write a paper.
Success in this program demands parent and child commitment. Mental illness is something the child, and the family, will deal with for a lifetime. The mental health court is designed to provide families with the necessary tools to handle problems constructively and help manage behavior so the juvenile can ultimately avoid the adult justice system and, hopefully, develop life skills necessary for the person to grow into a productive citizen.