Porter County, Indiana, has expanded its problem-solving courts to include a mental health court for teens, the first of its kind in the state.
“You just see an explosion in anxiety and depression right now, and especially the social phobias,” said Alison Cox, the county’s director of juvenile detention services and the court’s administrator, adding much of that stems from isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic, and “that’s across the board in all problem solving courts.”
According to the 2023 Indiana Kids Count Databook, 46.9% of high school students in the state reported feeling sad or hopeless for more than two weeks in 2021; that figure was 29.3% in 2015.
“Mental health has become a focus throughout most areas of daily life,” the databook notes. “This heightened focus was caused, in part, by the exacerbation of mental health issues due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During much of the pandemic, individuals reported feeling stress, anxiety, fear, and isolation.”
“The bottom line is, we see the need in the community,” Porter Circuit Court Judge Mary DeBoer said.
She saw success in the mental health court under Porter Superior Court Judge Christopher Buckley, and wanted to bring the same potential benefits to teens.
“Maybe if we catch this now, they won’t end up in my court,” she said. “This was something all of us felt so strongly about.”
Cox is seeing an uptick in the Juvenile Detention Center as well, and in referrals being evaluated by probation officers.
Because the various players in problem solving courts “can’t work in silos,” Cox said, they are working together in what she called a “one house approach,” so teens in probation or detention get an assessment to determine if they would benefit from diversion.
One of the goals of the program, she said, is to keep kids out of juvenile detention through diversion in the problem solving courts, day reporting or house arrest, which has different levels of coordinated supervision.
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