This brief provides an overview of the challenges many system of care communities face in working with children, youth, and young adults involved or at risk of involvement with the juvenile justice system and provides concrete examples of how some communities have overcome these challenges.

System of care communities, in partnership with the juvenile justice system, have the potential to alter the trajectory of youth with mental health needs at risk of referral to the juvenile justice system. By helping create more community‐based treatment capacity and establishing linkages between the community mental health system and the juvenile justice system at key points of opportunity, communities can make a great difference in the lives of many children and youth. While such partnerships must confront and address a number of unique challenges, these challenges are by no means insurmountable. With careful planning and open communication, these challenges can be avoided or overcome, and successful and sustainable systems of care can be built to serve youth with mental health needs in the juvenile justice system.

The National Center for Youth Opportunity and Justice (NCYOJ) originally developed and maintained this resource. The NCYOJ was operated by Policy Research, Inc. and operated from 2001 to 2022 and was formerly known as the National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice. The NCYOJ improved life opportunities for youth through systems and practice improvement initiatives.

This resource should be viewed as a reference document. It has not been updated since its publication. In addition, this document has not been made 508 compliant. If you would like a 508 compliant version of this document, please email

This resource was first shared in 2010.

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