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KDOC Begins Unifying Mental Health Training for Juvenile Correctional Staff

by Cheryl Cadue last modified Jul 07, 2015 02:26 PM
Juvenile officials within the Kansas Department of Corrections (KDOC) are taking steps to train correctional staff in responding to the mental health needs of those in the juvenile system.
KDOC Begins Unifying Mental Health Training for Juvenile Correctional Staff

Session trainer Gene Griffin, a clinical psychologist from Northwestern University, reviews behaviorial development in adolescents.

“Nationally, between 60 to 70 percent of kids in the juvenile justice system have a mental health disorder and roughly 90 percent have experienced at least one trauma event,” said Terri Williams, KDOC deputy secretary of juvenile services. “The more we can educate staff, the more likely we can ensure that our work will lead to better outcomes for our youth.”

This month, the KDOC’s juvenile division hosted national experts who provided comprehensive adolescent development and mental health training for correctional staff and other stakeholders in the Kansas juvenile justice system. The goal is to hold several sessions across the state in the coming year as well as train staff in the curriculum to enable the KDOC to continue delivering the training.

“This program exposes our staff to the best practices in the field,” Williams said. “We’ll study what works and look at putting it into our own policies and practices.”

The juvenile division hosted its first 8-hour training session with two trainers from the Mental Health and Juvenile Justice Collaborative for Change, a resource center supported by the MacArthur Foundation, on July 9th at the Jayhawk Tower in Topeka. Nearly 50 representatives from the KDOC, its medical/behavioral health contractor, group homes, local community case management agencies and the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services (KDADS) attended the program. Titled “Mental Health Training Curriculum for Juvenile Justice (MHTC-JJ)”, the trainers exposed attendees to critical information and practical strategies for interacting and communicating with juveniles who have mental health needs.

Williams said the national initiative has shown that by better equipping staff to deal with mental illness, the KDOC could stem the rising costs associated with taking care of the mentally ill as well as improve the safety and security of juvenile facilities for staff and offenders.

Given that a situation involving a mentally ill youth can quickly escalate into a crisis, measures of the training’s success could include a drop in the number of use of force incidents and number of injuries to staff and offenders, Williams said.

“With our juvenile population and their stage of brain development, we can’t expect immediate 100 percent compliance all the time,” Williams said.  “The use of alternative approaches and new skills like motivational interviewing or crisis intervention take practice.”

For Renae Rocha, a juvenile correctional officer at the Kansas Juvenile Correctional Complex, the training has the real-life applications in her day-to-day duties. Rocha cited the program’s discussions about adolescent brain development and the effects of childhood trauma as giving her better insight into working with youth.

“It’s giving us explanations for actual situations that we deal with,” she said.

For one of the program’s expert trainers, Gene Griffin, a clinical psychologist from Northwestern University, Rocha’s words expressed exactly what the program aims to accomplish.

“With this training, we can give them the research, but it’s all about the implementation,” Griffin said.


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