On June 27-28, 2012 the kick-off meeting for Improving Diversion Policies and Programs for Justice-Involved Youth with Co-Occurring Mental Health and Substance Abuse Disorders was held in Bethesda, Maryland. More than 100 were in attendance for this event, including teams representing the eight states participating in this initiative: Arkansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, New York, South Carolina, and Virginia. Over the course of the day-and-a-half meeting, teams learned about key issues and strategies for diverting youth with co-occurring disorders from the justice system to appropriate community-based services.

The agenda consisted of presentations from nationally recognized experts on the key areas of Collaboration, Diversion, Identification, and Treatment, as well as presentations on critical issues such as Disproportionate Minority Contact, Family Engagement and Involvement, Financing Strategies, and Trauma. The individual teams worked to develop a plan for improving diversion policies and programs for justice-involved youth with co-occurring mental health and substance abuse disorders within their state. Teams will receive ongoing technical assistance to support their efforts to develop and implement a pre-adjudication diversion strategy or approach for youth with co-occurring disorders.

Using the Action Network framework, adopted by MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change Initiative, the states worked together to identify and prioritize critical issues that cut across multiple jurisdictions and states. The top cross-site issues identified by participating states were Screening for Co-Occurring Disorders and Implementing Evidence-Based Practices. Cross-site teams will now work together to develop, implement and refine models and approaches to address these cross-site issues with support and guidance from national experts in these areas. These cross-site groups will re-convene the week of September 10th to collaboratively develop a core set of strategies for addressing these two areas, identify local adaptations that are necessary, and finalize an action plan for the cross-site pilot testing of their product. A key benefit to the Action Network approach is the development of innovative solutions to cross-site issues that can be disseminated and utilized in a variety of jurisdictions across the country.Stay tuned for future updates on the work of these state teams and Action Networks.

This initiative is coordinated by the National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice, at Policy Research, Inc., and the Technical Assistance Collaborative, Inc., and supported by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.