Name of Host Organization: KidsVoice
City, State: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Issue area: Disability Rights, Children/Youth
Zach used Pennsylvania’s new holistic court rules to advocate for foster youth with severe mental illness who are involved with diversion programs, residential treatment centers, and juvenile justice facilities.
Need Addressed By Project
Youth with moderate to severe mental health issues account for more than half of foster youth in out-of-home care. Untreated mental illness leads to school failure, involvement in the criminal justice system, high rates of substance abuse, limited employment opportunities, and high rates of early death. Youth with psychiatric disabilities in the foster care and juvenile justice systems are frequently institutionalized, systematically traumatized, and over medicated. They are less likely than youth outside these systems to have access to consistent mental health care. Pennsylvania’s court rules that became effective in 2011 require attorneys representing youth in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems to address their health, education, and disability related needs. Dedicated legal representation will improve the education and life outcomes for mentally ill foster youth by securing academic credit for work completed in residential settings, reducing school suspensions and expulsions, and increasing continuity of mental health treatment.