California has improved the way it cares for the mental health of youth who are involved or at-risk for involvement in the juvenile justice system. These youth are the most needy yet most underserved population in our state. The sorely needed improvements are a result of several state and federal programs and initiatives. In many counties these programs and initiatives provide the only mental health care for juvenile justice-involved or at-risk youth. We know that these programs have been working to improve the lives of young people and their families. These programs result in safer communities, intact families, and cost-savings for the counties and state.
However, if even some of the budget cuts proposed in the Governor's May Revision and debated in the legislatures become law, nearly all of these improvements will be erased, programs that need increased funding will instead lose funding, and the momentum gained in the past decade will be lost.
Compared to their alternatives, which in most cases is detention and placement in a group home, the programs proposed to be reduced or eliminated:
- provide more appropriate and proven successful services,
- keep more families intact,
- make communities safer, including reduced recidivism,
- cost the county and states less, and
- serve as key aspects of systemwide improvements.
As of July 15, the California Senate had passed a budget wisely rejecting many of the proposed cuts that would do most harm to these youth and the Assembly seemed inclined to do so also.
However, nothing is settled in the legislature, and in any case, it is likely that some mental health services and programs will be cut or reduced before the final budget is approved. It is essential that the Governor, lawmakers, and their staff members understand what is at stake, and just how far these relatively few dollars can go towards keeping our communities safe while improving the lives of these needy children.