The Annie E. Casey Foundation: Helping vulnerable kids & families succeed
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Harris County mental health docket

A special court docket created in 2009 by a Harris County (Texas) judge is steering juveniles with mental illness away from out-of-home placements by offering rehabilitation programs that link them and their families to community services and treatment.

As of February 2011, 42 of 51 youth had successfully completed the Mental Health Court since it was started in February 2009 by 314th District Court Judge John Phillips.

The court has become an option in a county where an estimated 52 percent of youth in the juvenile justice system have at least one mental illness and just a handful of schools offer mental health services.

It uses a therapeutic approach that emphasizes rehabilitation over punishment and relies on individualized treatment plans and immediate linkages to intensive therapeutic and wraparound services.

Each juvenile participates for a minimum of six months and is assigned to a multidisciplinary team that includes the judge, district attorney’s office, defense attorney, court psychologist, treatment provider and family.

The treatment plan is a “living document” that responds to youth and family needs as they arise, addresses barriers and adds additional services as needed.

The plan goes beyond therapeutic services to include wraparound services that address issues like poverty, housing, lack of insurance and parents’ health issues.

The emphasis on community-based services increases parental involvement and allows families to develop relations with juvenile justice and treatment providers.

The court is one part of a detention reform strategy that has helped decrease referrals to the county’s juvenile probation department by 14 percent between 2007 and 2009.

The number of youth placed in residential centers after adjudication also fell 42 percent in Harris County and commitments to the state's juvenile corrections system dropped 62 percent.

For more information contact Nancy Baird at