Jane Adams College of Social Work, University of Illinois at Chicago
My research has and continues to primarily focus on the intersection of mental health and juvenile delinquency. My research project before my New Connections funding was, Exploring MAYSI-2 Differences: African American and Caucasian Male Juvenile Offenders. It was a mixed methods study utilizing primary data collected from two Midwestern juvenile detention facilities. It explored the Massachusetts Youth Screening Instrument version 2 (MAYSI-2), the mental health screening tool used in detention centers throughout 47 of the 50 United States. The study was designed to understand why African-American and Caucasian juvenile offenders were interpreting some of the items differently, but there was no published research regarding the cause. I was able to confirm certain factors that influence how juveniles answer the screening questions and identify differences by race between African-American and Caucasian male juvenile offenders that should be considered during the administration of the MAYSI-2 and interpretation of the results. Prior to obtaining my Ph.D., I worked in the field of social work for 14 years. For seven years I provided mental health services to children and adolescents and their families in a variety of settings including community mental health based services, residential care and a psychiatric hospital particle hospitalization program. In addition, I worked for four years in an administrative and faculty position at Jane Addams College of Social Work, University of Illinois at Chicago.
The theoretical foundation for this study is structural ecosystems theory and the goal is to answer the question: When analyzing a juvenile justice system’s historical data, what patterns and relationships will emerge that can guide which intervention and prevention strategies are selected and implemented to effectively meet the needs of juvenile offenders? It is designed to identify: 1) the prevalent criminal offenses and mental health disorders that must be targeted; and 2) typologies of communities that, when targeted via prevention and intervention strategies, will have maximum effectiveness in meeting juvenile offender needs and can be generalized to other communities. The data for the study is four-and-a-half years of administrative and historical data from a Midwestern detention center. The results from this study will be two-fold. First, patterns will be identified that can inform juvenile justice systems about the types of service providers they should partner with that will promote the mental health of and decrease the negative trajectories for the juvenile offenders in their system. These partnerships will enable them to utilize targeted intervention and prevention strategies versus providing generalized and fragmented services when addressing mental health disorders and the factors that encourage re-offending behaviors. Second, the results will provide juvenile justice facilities with a model of how to use their existing data to inform their specific partnership and service delivery needs. Successful completion of this study will demonstrate how the patterns and relationships that emerge from existing data can be used to inform the policy decisions and practice strategies implemented in juvenile justice systems. This study’s multi-faceted focus on the intersection of mental health and offending behavior provides a broader approach for identifying and implementing solutions that impact large numbers of youth of color who are disproportionately impacted by the juvenile justice system.
My New Connections Experience
I applied for funding from New Connections for two primary reasons. The first was because it was the first funding source that I had ever seen that was a match for my specific area of interest – the intersection between mental health and juvenile delinquency for youth of color. I had seen funding for research about adolescent mental health issues and other funding for juvenile delinquency, but I had not seen funding specifically focused on the impact of multiple negative influences on youth of color. The New Connections call was focused in that area. My second reason was because I was excited about the opportunity to possibly be funded by a foundation that was committed to researchers from under-represented backgrounds. I was equally impressed by their broader commitment to helping to develop well rounded and skilled researchers from underrepresented backgrounds and I wanted to be one of the researchers.
Being a part of the New Connections family has been an extraordinary launching pad for my career. It has allowed me the opportunity to launch a research project that I believe is important because it is an area where little research exists; it also has the potential to change the practice in juvenile justice systems. It has also provided me with an entire network of researcher that I did not know before and given me a support system that has thus far been invaluable.
The Intersection Between Mental Health and Juvenile Delinquency, Particularly for African-American males; the Mental Health of African Americans; School Social Work; Health Disparities; Child and Adolescent Mental Health; Child Welfare
- New Connections Status: Junior Investigator
- Award Year: 2009
- RWJF Team/Portfolio: Vulnerable Populations
- Project Name: A Strategy for Promoting the Mental Health of and Decreasing the Negative Trajectories of Juvenile Offenders