House Bill 2383 (Creating a pilot program for expansion of school-based mental health and school-based diversion) is a bill aimed at reducing the flow of youth from our schools into our juvenile justice system.
Increasingly, schools are sending youth with disciplinary issues to the courts rather than using the school disciplinary system. The courts serve as a gatekeeper to the limited mental and behavioral health services in West Virginia. Unfortunately, since many communities do not have appropriate services, youth are sometimes placed in a facility out of their homes -- separating families and creating trauma. Even when that isn't the case, youth under court supervision are more likely to face later charges for minor issues, bringing them even deeper into the system.
We already know appropriate mental and behavioral health interventions are a much better and longer-lasting way to encourage appropriate behaviors. School-based diversion is a program where before utilizing school discipline or legal sanctions for normal beahvioral issues, a student is connected with and assessed for health services. In Connecticut, this program has led to 34% fewer court referrals and connected 47% more students with health services. Students who go through this process are less likely than similarly situated peers to get in trouble again.
In Connecticut, students are connected with community health providers. Many communities lack appropriate providers in West Virginia. So this legislation connects youth with school-based services either through a school-based health center offering mental and behavioral health services or through the Expanded School Mental Health (ESMH) program.
To demonstrate the viability of this program and avoid requiring expenses, this model would be piloted in a school or schools that already have these services. If the model shows fewer court referrals, more youth receiving necessary support, and fewer repeat offenders, the services and program can be expanded. Schools are better situated than courts to provide early intervention for youth. Our courts should not be the gate-keepers to necessary health services.
And, ultimately, our youth should be in classrooms, not in courtrooms.