Many children in juvenile justice system have mental health challenges

A child welfare advocate on Friday told legislators that upwards of 70 percent of children in the juvenile justice system have a diagnosed mental health challenge.

“We are taking mental health seriously as a barrier for youth living a complete and fulfilling life,” said Shanelle Dupree, Kansas City Regional Director of the Kansas Department for Children and Families. “It should be a concern for all Kansans,” Dupree testified to the Special Committee on Kansas Mental Health and Modernization Reform.

Dupree, who also serves as chair of the Kansas Juvenile Justice Oversight Committee, urged better collaboration between mental health, juvenile justice, education, health care and law enforcement systems.

The Juvenile Justice Oversight Committee is charged with implementing reforms approved in 2016 that focus on keeping juvenile offenders supervised in the community rather than out-of-home placement.

Under the law, resources saved through fewer youth in the juvenile justice system have been used to fund evidence-based programs to help young people and their families, Dupree said. She said $2 million has been set aside for increased mental health service for juvenile offenders.

State Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, and chair of the Special Committee on Mental Health Modernization and Reform, urged Dupree to make sure the programs are producing results.

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