City approves funding for Juvenile Drug Court's mental health program

Dec. 7—Tuesday night, Owensboro city commissioners approved funding for a new Juvenile Drug Court program that will have an increased focus on providing mental health treatment.

Commissioners approved a memorandum of agreement with Daviess Fiscal Court, where the city and county will provide $75,000 each annually for four years for the program. Fiscal Court has already approved funding for the program.

Daviess County Attorney Claud Porter told commissioners juveniles being referred to Juvenile Drug Court often have a mental health disorder along with a substance abuse disorder. After the meeting, Porter said some juveniles, like adults, will self-medicate a mental health disorder with drugs.

The number of juveniles in Juvenile Drug Court with a mental health issue is "well above 50%," Porter said.

Porter said officials have been doing some mental health assessment already, but the funding will make assessment and treatment a formal part of the Juvenile Drug Court process.

"By becoming more intentional about it, we feel we can develop a program that will meet the needs of the kids, their families and the community," Porter said.

A juvenile referred to Juvenile Drug Court has committed a public offense, but cannot have committed a violent or sexual offense, Porter said. When a juvenile is referred to Drug Court, they will be assessed both by a substance abuse professional and a mental health professional.

If the juvenile has a mental health issue, the professional will develop a treatment plan, and the juvenile's parents will be given treatment options. As in adult Mental Health Court, the plan will be monitored by the court to make sure the juvenile is receiving treatment, Porter said.

"We will provide them with options, and hopefully solutions," Porter said.

A juvenile will stay in the program for up to 26 weeks, which means they will be under court supervision all that time, Porter said. By comparison, the most a juvenile charged with a non-violent, non-sexual public offense would stay in juvenile incarceration is 90 days.

Officials have said previously that detention centers are not equipped to provide mental health treatment. Instead of being incarcerated in a juvenile facility, the juvenile will receive treatment and counseling through a local provider, Porter said. The program will help access treatment for juveniles who do not qualify for Medicaid or Medicare, he said.

If the juvenile completes the program, the charge against them could be dismissed by the court. If they do not finish their treatment program, the case will be referred back to juvenile court for further proceedings, Porter said.

Juvenile Drug Court usually handles no more than eight juveniles at a time. When asked about the cost of the mental health program, Porter said it is still far less expensive than putting a juvenile in incarceration.

The cost of holding a juvenile in a detention center is $110 daily.

"We (will treat them) for less than half of that cost," Porter said.

With the funding approved, the program will begin Jan. 1.