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Advocacy Letter to Mental Health America

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Advocacy Letter to Mental Health America

Susie Sunshine

Nova Southeastern University

Mental Health America

Some Address

Some City, Florida

Dear Advocacy Representative:

I am writing you, the representatives at Mental Health America, to discuss an emerging concern of America’s children and youth with mental disabilities falling into the hands of the juvenile justice system. Throughout the past several years, the National Council on Disability has identified that children and youth with mental health disabilities have increasingly become overrepresented within the juvenile justice system. Research conducted by the National Council on Disability identifies many contributing factors to this representation of youth in the justice system as being very widespread and complex however has identified three major areas of contribution and concern. The research suggests that school failure, poorly developed social skills, and inadequate school and community supports are greatly increasing the risks for arrest and incarceration of youth (Mears, Aron, Bernstein, & White, 2003).

It is noted that delinquents, in general, do less well in school and more often are held back (Maguin & Loeber, 1996). The relationship between academic problems and delinquency is becoming well documented among incarcerated youth within the juvenile justice system. Research examined the school functioning and academic achievement of 157 youth who had brief contact with a state department of juvenile justice and then returned to the community; more than half demonstrated problems in school functioning or academic performance. In addition, standard achievement scores were well below average (Brown, Riley, Walrath, Leaf & Valdez, 2008).

According to a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “One in 5 children has a diagnosable mental health or addictive disorder, and 1 in 10 has a serious emotional disturbance that significantly impairs functioning at school, at home, and in the community” (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services [USDHHS], 1999). A significant proportion of these youth are identified to have education related disabilities, thus making them eligible for special education services. Despite laws and regulations, many schools are not providing disabled children with the legally required services and support. Many times limited school budgets may decrease children’s access to special education programs and most schools are not mandated to provide help for disruptive problems (Magda, Stouthamer-Loeber & Loeber, 2002). When such children are not provided the support and guidance they need to learn and thrive, they may become a behavioral issue. In addition, many schools are now adopting a “zero tolerance” approach to misbehavior. This approach is much more punitive and restrictive then prior approaches, thus resulting in strict disciplinary actions for youth. Such strict actions are resulting in children with disabilities being removed from their school, and placed into the juvenile justice setting (Mears et al., 2003).

Once in the juvenile justice system, many children with disabilities become overlooked, and/or are not afforded appropriate services to address their disabilities. This is due to the system being relied upon as a source for sanctioning the children for their delinquent behaviors, and not addressing their specific mental health disabilities (Mears et al., 2003). In addition, there tends to be a lack of understanding of the disabilities and disability laws among juvenile justice institutions (Mears et al., 2003). Without an understanding of specific mental health disabilities children and youth may be left undiagnosed, untreated, and unsupported within the juvenile system. Leaving such children undiagnosed and untreated can lead children into a lifetime of involvement in the justice system.

The website for Mental Health America notes, “We want our nation’s schools, businesses, healthcare system and other settings to have the knowledge and resources they need to respond to the mental health of their constituencies and achieve their missions. We want persons with disabling mental illnesses to receive the support, treatment and services that they need to recover and live full lives in their communities. We want more research and services focused on prevention, recovery and cures” ( www.mentalhealthamerica.net ). With such in mind there is a need to conduct further research which will focus on establishing the exact prevalence of youth with disabilities among at-risk populations in schools and across all stages of the juvenile justice system. In addition, further research should be completed to examine the level of overall compliance with disability laws within juvenile justice institutions. There needs to be a more strict screening process for children and youth being admitted into facilities, and a check and balance process for complete compliance with special education services throughout the duration of the child’s placement.

In addition to conducting further research, it is requested that Mental Health America assist in providing education regarding children’s mental health disabilities to schools, institutions, parents, and communities. More specifically there is a need to demonstrate how such disabilities can directly correlate with behavioral issues, which in turn can lead to children being placed into the juvenile justice system.


Susie Sunshine


Brown, J., Riley, A., Walrath, C., Leaf, P., & Valdez, C. (2008). Academic Achievement and School Functioning Among Nonincarcerated Youth Involved With the Juvenile Justice System. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, 13(1), 59.  Retrieved January 20, 2010, from Research Library. (Document ID: 1528123291).

Magda Stouthamer-Loeber, & Rolf Loeber. (2002). Lost opportunities for intervention:

Undetected markers for the development of serious juvenile delinquency. Criminal Behaviour and Mental Health : CBMH, 12(1), 69.  Retrieved January 22, 2010, from ProQuest Psychology Journals. (Document ID: 233069131).

Maguin, E., Loeber, R.. (1996). Academic Performance and Delinquency. In Tonry M, ed. Crime and Justice Vol. 20. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 145-264.

Mears, D., Aron, L., Bernsteind, J., White, R.. (2003). Addressing the Needs of Youth with Disabilities in the Juvenile Justice System: The Status of Evidence-Based Research. National Council on Disability. Retrieved January 18, 2010, from website. ( www.ncd.gov ).

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (1999). Mental health: A report of the Surgeon General. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

This should also be included in the advocacy letter

· Choose a group of people to advocate for

· Advocate to for the boys who was molested by the priest

· Write on their behalf to a governing body to advocate for them

· Include peer review references

· Talk about what the problem is

· Use the rubric (included below)

· No coversheet

· Letter format

· Clearly describe the group of people

· What’s important about the group

· Talk about the problem

· Talk about the injustice

· Give some solutions for how things can be change

· Advocate for policy change for the group

· Example of a group (U.S. Gymnastic Team)

· Advocate on who should be fired (anyone who knew and didn’t report it)


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