California State Library Research Bureau DVD illustrates youth mental health issues in foster care, juvenile justice, and education systems

The California State Library’s Research Bureau, in partnership with Pacific News Service, recently released a DVD entitled, Bringing Young People to the Table: A Year of Discussions on Mental Health in Foster Care, Juvenile Justice and Education. The DVD, produced by YO! TV, a youth-run production team, contains highlights drawn from a series of five public policy forums held in summer and fall 2005 at the California State Library (CSL) and sponsored by the California Research Bureau (CRB) and Pacific News Service (PNS). These discussions, and production and distribution of the DVD, were made possible by the generous support of The California Wellness Foundation.

The five seminars covered in Bringing Young People to the Table, examined the mental health needs of at-risk youth in foster care, the juvenile justice system, the state’s K-12 schools, and in the transition to work. Each forum featured youth speakers, model program practitioners, and researchers—learning from the heart and the head. Over 300 state policymakers attended the programs. Participants at the policy forums repeatedly praised the youth speakers. The fortuitous passage of Proposition 63, the Mental Health Services Act, further heightened awareness of the importance of mental health services for at-risk, under-served, transition-aged youth. As one participant noted,

We particularly valued the opportunity to hear issues experienced by youth presented ‘in their own voice’. The testimony and issues raised today will be particularly useful as the Department of Mental Health proceeds to implement the Education and Training component of the Mental Health Services Act.

(Comment from a policy forum evaluation by a legislative staff person)

The recently released DVD highlights the program and policy challenges in providing mental health services to high-risk youth, and provides an opportunity to hear directly from young people about their experiences with “the system.” At a recent screening of the DVD, almost 100 participants, one-fifth of them young people, discussed the ten policy recommendations presented in the DVD and explored ways to include youth voices and perspectives in future policy discussions.

While it is always hard to measure directly the impact of a project such as this on public policy, program evaluations suggest that it has had a significant impact in educating policymakers about the mental health challenges facing youth currently or formerly in the juvenile justice system, and foster care youth transitioning from care. The project has accomplished this in a completely new and innovative way, by bringing youth voices directly into the policy discussion, as well as by highlighting important research findings and promising practices.

California Council on Youth Relations

One of the benefits of grant funding is the ability to be flexible as learning occurs, so that the objectives of the project can be realized. The partnership CRB formed with PNS, an organization with a long history of involvement with at-risk, transition-aged youth, led to the creation of the California Council on Youth Relations, now an independent organization that assists youth in speaking to policymakers and program staff at both the state and local levels about how to work effectively with young people.

The participants on Bringing Young People to the Table encourage concerned citizens to look for ways to actively involve young people in the development and implementation of policies and programs that affect those young people. One way to do this is to invite youth from the California Council on Youth Relations (CCYR) to speak when issues of concern to young people are being discussed. Interested parties can reach the CCYR by contacting Patricia Johnson at 415-503-4170 or Ms. Johnson can also provide copies of the DVD.

Related CRB reports on youth

Nell Bernstein, an independent journalist and author skilled at interviewing at-risk youth, assisted in developing the policy seminars and authored the CRB report, Helping Those Who Need It Most: Meeting the Mental Health Care Needs of Youth in the Foster Care and Juvenile Justice Systems. Her report provides a fresh perspective on the mental health issues facing at-risk, transition aged youth—the perspective of youth themselves. It also provides case studies of innovative approaches and summarizes some key lessons for policymakers interested in providing effective interventions for this group of vulnerable youth.

The second report by CRB senior researcher Lisa Foster and intern Alicia Dienst, Mental Health Needs and Services for Youth in the Foster Care and Juvenile Justice Systems: An Annotated Bibliography of Selected Resources, provides summaries of the most recent research and statistics on the mental health needs and services accessed by youth in the foster care and juvenile justice systems. The report also includes a listing of selected resources and websites to assist policymakers in accessing these reports and policy briefs. Both CRB reports are available on the California State Library website, at

CRB will be continuing its successful partnership with the Pacific News Service, independent journalist and author Nell Bernstein, and the CCYR, in a new project focused on homeless youth. This project, also funded with the generous support of The California Wellness Foundation, will include a series of policy forums on the challenges and opportunities of working with this population of young people, and of course, will include youth voices as well.

For more information about these projects, please contact CRB Assistant Director Charlene Wear Simmons at 916-651-9751 or email or Research Programs Specialist Ginny Puddefoot at 916-653-7653 or email




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