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Knowledge Brief: Does Mental Health Screening Fulfill Its Promise?

Published Dec 1, 2011, Models for Change Research Initiative

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As many as two-thirds of youths in pre-trial detention exhibit behaviors serious enough to qualify them for a mental disorder. Under the stress of detention, these youths can act out in ways that are harmful to themselves, to other youths around them, and to detention center staff. In this study, researchers implemented a validated screening procedure (MAYSI-2) that allows staff to identify a youth who is in crisis and may need immediate attention. But would staff in fact use the tool to get youths the help they need? Findings indicate that inmost centers staff did increase their efforts to obtain services and to take suicide precautions where needed. In addition, when services were not available, the ability to identify youths was sometimes helpful in finding or creating the needed services. Screening did not reduce the number of disruptive incidents; that may require additional training.

This brief is one in a series describing new knowledge and innovations emerging from Models for Change, a multi-state juvenile justice initiative. Models for Change is accelerating movement toward a more effective, fair, and developmentally sound juvenile justice system by creating replicable models that protect community safety, use resources wisely, and improve outcomes for youths. The briefs are intended to inform professionals in juvenile justice and related fields, and to contribute to a new national wave of juvenile justice reform.


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Models for Change was a juvenile justice systems reform initiative supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, website operated by Justice Policy Institute.