- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 16, 2017

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) - Maine youth with severe mental illness come into contact with police for the same behaviors for which they’re receiving treatment, according to a recent report released by an advocacy group for individuals with disabilities.

Youth residential mental health treatment programs often rely on law enforcement to address participants’ behavior problems, said Katrina Ringrose, spokeswoman for Disability Rights Maine, which reviewed law enforcement and state Department of Health and Human Services records for the report.

State Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman Samantha Edwards questioned the report’s data, but said the department has been reviewing policies and working with law enforcement on crisis intervention programs.

Last fall, a 16-year-old transgender boy killed himself at Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland. Advocates for youth have since raised concern about the facility’s ability to care for children with the most challenging mental health needs. A state report found 29.5 percent of youth committed to Long Creek in July 2016 came directly from residential treatment programs.

Amanda Bartlett said her 17-year-old son, Jaden, has been incarcerated at Long Creek as she searched in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont for appropriate care for his autism and other diagnosed disabilities. She said Jaden has faced 10 criminal charges and is leaving Long Creek this week after several months to go to a new residential treatment program in Windham.

“It’s happening to so many families across the state,” Bartlett said. “Unfortunately there aren’t enough or appropriate treatment facilities in Maine to help children that have really severe mental illness or a combination of disabilities that make their behaviors challenging.”

More than three-quarters of calls to police from juvenile residential treatment providers were related to runaways or the broad category of “juvenile problems,” which can include property damage, according to the report.

“Are youth who are being involved in the criminal justice system - whether that’s incarceration or not - are they receiving effective treatment?” Ringrose asked. “If not, how can we ensure they are as opposed to what we believe to be the fall back solution of incarcerating youth at Long Creek?”

The number of treatment beds for Maine children have declined from about 700 to 300 during the last eight years or so, said Paul Dann, executive director of NFI North, which operates residential treatment centers in Maine.

It’s unrealistic to expect children with the most complex challenges will succeed in “understaffed, underfunded” programs that may lack needed specialized programs, he said.

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