Home News Center Maine Advocates Stand Ready to Help State Strengthen its Community Mental Health Supports

Maine Advocates Stand Ready to Help State Strengthen its Community Mental Health Supports

June 29, 2022
Courtney M. McSwain

Image of two young people hugging with article headline

Ensuring youth with mental health disabilities have access to community-based care is the research-proven solution to supporting their mental health needs
(see infographic). This month, The Department of Justice (DOJ) found the State of Maine in violation of the American Disabilities Act and the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Olmstead v. L.C., which held that “people with disabilities have a right to live and receive services in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs — typically in their homes and communities instead of in institutions,” according to a press release from the DOJ.   

After a complaint filed by Disability Rights Maine, a DOJ investigation concluded many youth with mental health disabilities were only able to access treatment from emergency rooms, youth detention facilities and other institutions because of a lack of community-based mental health services that would keep them in their homes. The DOJ implored Maine to expand access to community based supports for youth with mental health disabilities.  

“Despite years of notice, Maine has not yet come to terms with the scope of the problem it faces, the significant harm being done to a generation of youth and families, and the enormous future costs that will continue to mount unless the longstanding deficiencies in the children’s behavioral health system are addressed with the urgency required. Maine must turn away from expensive and ineffective institutional solutions and toward a system that supports youth in their homes and communities,” Atlee Reilly, Legal Director, Disability Rights Maine said in a statement released by a coalition of youth advocates. 

In response, the State of Maine shared a sense of “urgency” and commitment to filling the need for community-based resources that keep youth with mental health disabilities at home where they can receive the best treatment options.  
"We share the strong sense of urgency in ensuring that Maine children with disabilities have timely access to an array of high-quality, evidence-based services that prevent institutionalization whenever possible – and will continue to work diligently towards that end," HHS spokeswoman Jackie Farwell said in a statement published by TheCenterSquare.com.  
"Fundamentally, the (Mills) administration believes that Maine children with disabilities or behavioral health needs should have timely access to high-quality services in their communities in order to prevent unnecessary institutionalization. The Department welcomes the opportunity to engage with the Department of Justice and other stakeholders to improve the children's behavioral health system in Maine," Farwell said.  

Jill Ward, Director of NJJN member organization Maine Center for Juvenile Policy and Law, welcomed the state’s response and shares the advocacy community's urgent call to redouble efforts to provide the community mental health supports youth and families need. 
“The lack of sufficient community-based behavioral health services for youth has been a long-standing and well-documented problem in Maine and it is encouraging to see the state’s commitment to work collaboratively to respond to the issues raised by the DOJ...Addressing the deficits in Maine’s system requires all of us working together - agency heads, policy makers, providers, community leaders, advocates, youth and families to realize a more robust and sustainable array of community-centered behavioral health supports and services for all our youth. ” Ward said.  

The DOJ’s letter specifically included findings (page 6) that youth were being housed in Maine’s only youth prison, Long Creek, due to a lack of community-based services. Maine Youth Justice has previously called for the closure of Long Creek, highlighting this is an opportunity for the state to move away from the youth prison model by increasing access to community-based services.    

The actions Maine takes next have the potential to be a model, laying a framework for other states to expand community-based services and reduce their reliance on youth incarceration. States across the country can do more to deeply invest in the future of our nation’s youth by applying for new federal grant funds through  Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) Community-based Alternatives to Incarceration Initiative. This Initiative supports state efforts to close youth prisons and reinvest state and local resources in more effective community-based services and supports for justice-involved youth and their families. 

Want more information about how you can advocate for your state to increase investments in community-based mental health supports for youth? Email info@njjn.org. 

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