The Center for the Promotion of Mental Health in Juvenile Justice at Columbia University, headed by Dr. Gail Wasserman, has been at the forefront of local and national efforts to promote services in juvenile justice settings for over 25 years. We have focused on determining the prevalence of mental health disorders at various points of contact with the juvenile justice system (intake, detention, secure care) and on measuring the effects of specific protocols designed to link youth to needed services. Our research has contributed to the growing body of evidence that timely identification of need and effective service linkage result in lowered rates of juvenile recidivism, with considerable savings to public safety. Our Center has begun the development stage of our new project: e-Connect (R01-MH113599, PI Wasserman).
Prior Work That Led to e-Connect
Our work with Project Connect, and JJ-TRIALS has informed and led us to the development of e-Connect.
To address difficulties faced by community juvenile justice agencies in identifying youth service needs (particularly behavioral health and suicidal behavior), and in linking identified youths to community care, we developed Project Connect, a service-system intervention. We worked with four New York State counties (Albany, Broome, Onondaga, and Orange) from June 2006 to November 2007. Our efforts were aimed at reducing suicide risk for juvenile probationers. We found that the combined use of (1) systemic screening for suicidality, (2) cross-agency decision trees about service linkage, (3) cross-agency Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs), and (4) behavioral health training increased access to services for identified youth by a factor of three.
Additionally, we are currently part of a multi-site cooperative research initiative of the National Institute of Drug Abuse. Known as the Translational Research on Interventions for Adolescents in the Legal System Research Collaborative (JJ-TRIALS), the group’s primary objective is to promote the systematic use of evidence-based practices to address the challenges faced by justice professionals when linking juvenile probationers to behavioral health services. In New York, we are working with the Office of Probation and Correctional Alternatives in six counties (Nassau, Niagara, Onondaga, Orange, Rensselaer, and Schenectady). Activities focus on promoting increased service access for community probationers, and evaluating the degree of implementation support that community agencies need to effect meaningful change.
What is e-Connect?
Justice involved youth have increased suicidal risk compared to youth in the general population. Evidence-based screening for youth with suicidal behavior is not commonly conducted within probation settings. With a validated screening instrument, probation officers will have the tools they need to link youth to the right service at the right time. e-Connect is a direct response to this need.
e-Connect is a new service delivery model that will enable real-time identification of youth needs and targeted, county-specific referral and linkage of those at various levels of risk for suicidal behavior. The implementation of a self-administered evidence-based screen on a tablet allows probation staff to quickly identify youth in crisis and connect them with needed services.
We are in the beginning stages of this work with ten (10) New York State Counties. Each county will have a local ‘pathway meeting’ with probation and behavioral health partners to identify how each county wants to respond for each level of youth risk, as well as current ways youth are connected to care and gaps or barriers. To further prepare these counties, we will provide an online behavioral health training for probation officers and provide ongoing technical assistance. We will begin collecting baseline data in October 2018 from probation’s MIS system data.
Our e-Connect protocol will be rolled out in three waves across ten counties in New York state beginning May 2019.