Law Enforcement interviews conducted by the Children’s Commission Community Juvenile Justice Coalition Sub-committee (CJJC) and Snohomish County’s Secure Crisis Residential Center (S-CRC) shed light on a glaring oversight in our county’s safety-net for children: We have no co-located mental health and chemical dependency treatment facility for youth.
Because no such facility exists in our region, Law Enforcement officers explained they have no place to take youth who they encounter in the midst of a mental health crisis, or who are toxic from methamphetamine or other drug use.
Too toxic for home, and not acute enough for involuntary treatment, the S-CRC at Denney Youth Center often becomes the de facto “treatment program” for these children in need. Kathy Haggerty, former S-CRC supervisor, estimated one out every five youth admitted to her program entered under just those conditions. She surmised, “Our facility is secure and our staff is well-trained to keep these kids safe. There’s just nowhere else for them to go.”
In fact, when these youth in crisis can’t be admitted to Denney Youth Center, they’re frequently sent across the state – as far away as the Tri-Cities in Eastern Washington – for care. With so much geographic distance between the youth and home, many families and social workers have difficulty visiting and engaging in the treatment process, thus creating an unnecessary barrier to participation in, and completion of, desperately needed services.
According to the 2004 Healthy Youth Survey, 10th graders who used methamphetamines in the last 30 days were significantly more likely to have had suicidal ideation in the last year than students who did not use methamphetamines in the last 30 days. The same was true for alcohol, marijuana, and ecstasy use.1 Although it is well known that drug use intensifies underlying mental health disorders like depression, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder, Snohomish County suffers from a severe lack of coordination between mental health and substance abuse rehabilitation services for youth.
Almost a decade ago, former Surgeon General David Satcher urged communities to take a more proactive stance in the prevention and treatment of mental illness for youth. His landmark 1999 report, “Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General,” indicated one in five children in the United States had a diagnosable mental illness, and 5% to 9% of those children had a mental illness resulting in “extreme functional impairment.” We know the rate of mental illness among juvenile justice involved youth is even higher. Based on intake screenings administered by detention facilities throughout Washington State, the Governor’s Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee Annual Report 2003 showed approximately two out of three youth in the state juvenile justice system had a current mental illness. Have “lock-down” facilities – both secure detention centers and crisis residential centers – become a community sanctioned alternative to mental health treatment?
Neglecting our children’s needs does not bring healing; nor should mental illness remain a gateway to juvenile justice involvement in Snohomish County. It’s time to stop penalizing youth for mental illness and start supporting them. The first step begins with the creation of a co-located mental health and chemical dependency treatment facility in our county.
1: “Children’s Mental Health in Washington State,” Washington State Department of Health, 2006